As the new softball coach at Madison Area Memorial High School, Chris LeBlanc wanted to do something to bring some excitement to the program.
Someone like Katie Burkhart Gooch was a good choice.
Burkhart was the ace pitcher for Arizona State’s national championship team in 2008. She won 41 games with a 0.75 ERA that season, and struck out 513 batters. After graduation, she was player of the year in the National Pro Fastpitch professional league.
Burkhart is one of the instructors at Maine Hits, a baseball and softball training facility in Scarborough. LeBlanc made a connection in February when he attended the Maine softball coaches clinic, where Burkhart was presenting along with University of Maine coach Lynn Coutts and University of Southern Maine coach Sarah Jamo.
“She came right here Friday night and she observed at practice,” LeBlanc said. “Then the next day she gave a presentation on the love of the game. She actually stayed with me and my family Friday night. My daughter (Aly) got a chance to talk softball with her.”
Aly LeBlanc, Madison’s catcher, also got to be Burkhart’s catcher for a session on Saturday. Coach LeBlanc said Burkhart threw about four or five pitchers to each of the Madison players at Saturday’s practice.
“We had a couple of players who fouled it off,” LeBlanc said. “If they fouled it off, the next pitch, they didn’t touch it. She signed some autographs. It was the awe factor.”
LeBlanc said Burkhart naturally talked about pitching, and stressed how important movement and spin are to success.
“She said at one point in her conversation with the girls that at a very young age, she threw 68 mph,” LeBlanc said. “But in the championship game, she doesn’t think she threw 10 fastballs.”
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So your team is dealing with the harsh winter, and you haven’t been able to play outside yet? Well, Forest Hills softball coach Ernie Giroux can probably do nothing but laugh, because this is what the Tigers go through just about every year in Jackman.
“Oh my God, we got so much,” Giroux said. “Our first home game is the fifth (of May), and I don’t think we’ll be on it by then. I really don’t.”
Giroux said the snow is about three-quarters of the way up the outfield fence on the softball field.
“I’ve never seen so much snow since I’ve been coaching,” Giroux said. “I haven’t seen this much snow in a long, long time.”
Still, the snow usually comes harder and stays longer in that area, so Giroux is used to running a practice inside.
“It’s hard, but we have the batting cage set up, so that helps,” he said. “We’re getting a big use out of that. The rest of the team I have (do) ground balls and fundamentals.”
Giroux calls one drill the “barrel drill.” It’s simply a trash barrel placed against the stage in the gymnasium and surrounded by mats, and the players try to throw the ball into the barrel.
“That keeps their interest,” he said.
Forest Hills is scheduled to play its first game on April 30. That will be against Vinalhaven, and will be played at Thomas College in Waterville.
“There’s only so much you can do in the gym,” Giroux said. “It’s a boring time. We’re used to it. We’ll be ready for our first game.”
Some teams have been able to begin preseason, like Waterville boys tennis, which lost to Brunswick on Wednesday.
Waterville coach Sandor Nagy said he wasn’t concerned about the loss. The main thing he’s looking for in the exhibition season is how well the Purple Panthers pick up new things.
“Technically, I’m trying to teach them topspin,” Nagy said. “It’s the safest and most reliable shot in the game,” and can be used in any weather conditions, Nagy added.
Waterville plays Kents Hill at 2 p.m., Saturday at the new A-Copi Tennis and Sports Center on the Leighton Road in Augusta. The new facility, which brings indoor tennis to Augusta for the first time in more than six years, opened in late March.
“I’ve been to it twice,” Nagy said. “It’s a very nice facility.”