R.A. Long and Mark Morris high schools introduced slowpitch softball this year to combat disparate gender numbers from football.
Between the great fall weather, a relaxed atmosphere and slower gameplay, slowpitch is working its way to being one of the more popular sports in Longview, drawing girls who wouldn’t otherwise be taking batting practice in the afternoon.
Mark Morris sophomore Emma Worley never played a sport at the high school level. The only sport she ever participated in at any level was tennis, but that was something that made slowpitch so attractive.
“I like it a lot,” Worley said. “I played tennis and it’s pretty similar actually. Throwing the ball is the same as serving and so is hitting. It’s just the defense (that is different).”
She’s not alone.
A good portion of Longview rosters are supplanted by girls who haven’t played fastpitch softball before at the varsity level, and at least one-third of both teams haven’t played any sport at the high school level.
“We have three girls who were on the fastpitch team last year and four girls who haven’t played anything,” Monarchs coach Owen Johnson said. “Some were intimidated by fastpitch and how quickly the ball arrived, and that sort of thing. They’re having a lot of fun, though. It’s been great.”
Having fresh bodies that haven’t played before has its perks.
“It can be nice because there’s no bad habits to break,” R.A. Long slowpitch assistant and fastpitch head coach Jennifer Godinho said. “We have girls who have never slid before, and they are worried about it at first but then they do it and find out it’s not that bad.”
Mark Morris hired Johnson — who will also be the new head coach for the fastpitch team — a week left before school started back up. R.A. Long was a little further along, though they fielded the majority of their team around the same time.
Despite the lack of time to plan, both schools filled their roster and the interest has grown at a pace that neither head coach expected.
One of the fringe benefits of having softball in the spring is the weather. Seventy-five degrees with a cool breeze makes for a great time to step outdoors, and that’s something girls who weren’t interested in distance running have been going without.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?” Johnson said. “Who wouldn’t want to be out here when it’s like this?”
One of the Monarchs’ few veterans of fastpitch, junior Sha’Kayla Harris, has been enjoying the weather absent rain and adapting to the differences slowpitch has to offer.
“It’s really different than fast pitch, a lot slower,” Harris said. “I’m still getting used to not being able to steal.”
A different approach to hitting, simplified baserunning and a lot of defensive work summarize the game compared to its faster counterpart. Along with the relaxed level of competition, coaches from both schools feel the sport brings a lot to the table.
“It’s good for the girls who were playing JV to get some more experience and get better,” R.A. Long head coach David McDaniel said. “We had some girls voice that fastpitch is too aggressive or takes them out of their comfort zone. Now they’re finding out that they might be able to do this in fastpitch also.”