Moultrie is now the teacher on Team USA

Michelle Moultrie has been a leader on Team USA for several years. (Photo by USA Softball)

By Michael Kinney

Michelle Moultrie has been part of the USA Softball program since 2011 and has traveled the world playing the sport she loves. Before that she was a star at the University of Florida who collected All-American credentials and College World Series appearances.

Yet, despite the success the Jacksonville, Fla. Native has earned, Moultrie still sees her career as unsuspecting and unlikely.

“It’s kind of been like surprising,” Moultrie said. “When I was a kid, I didn’t see myself going this far. I think when you get chosen for things like this, it’s almost a surreal type of thing. I had a much better college career than I thought I would. Given this opportunity was something I never imagined would happen. It’s been awesome.”

Moultrie may be the most recognizable player on the current Team USA softball team, which just won the World Championships. Wherever the team goes, she is a fan favorite. Her style of play in the outfield and at the plate is one of the factors that helps the squad play an entertaining brand of softball.

But Moultrie says being able to take the field wearing the uniform with USA emblazon across the front is reason enough to be excited about the game.

“It’s been an amazing opportunity. Just from the very first year, it doesn’t really change,” Moultrie said. “Every year that you make the team, you have that same feeling like ‘OMG, I get to represent my country.’ It’s a really amazing experience. It’s different each year. We play in different places. There is new people that come on the team. So I think it’s just a really cool, life opportunity. Just really amazing.”

Yet, that doesn’t mean it’s been an easy transition for Moultrie. After the success she found with the Gators, she suddenly had to learn to deal with failure on a national stage.

“It is a game you really have to learn, especially the failure side of having a bad day or bad at bat,” Moultrie said. “One thing I’ve learned is to try and stay calm through that and just know that each day is going to be different than the next.”

As easy as Moultrie makes it sound, she says it’s been one of her most difficult adjustments in softball. But the benefits have proven to help her in all facets of her life.

“It’s pretty tough,” Moultrie said. “But a lot of things you do on the field can just help you in life. Experiences like you can’t sit too long on things you didn’t do well. Learn from it and kind of move on. Good things will happen next time.”

As one of the longer tenured veterans on Team USA, Moultrie finds herself teaching the younger players in the program on how to deal with failure and how to respond to it on world stage.

“A lot of the young girls are great, but it is a hard transition from college to here,” Moultrie said. “The game is a little bit different. That is something we tell each other, encourage each other. It’s a long summer and we’re working towards the end. A lot of times, especially being at a high level, you can go up and down with how you’re performing. But coach (Ken) Erickson, he is so inspirational. And he always reminds us what a great opportunity it is here and how special it is to be on this field.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Writer and can be contacted on Eyeamtruth.com

At Team USA Level, basics is at the core

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – The game of softball has changed considerably over the decades. Everything from the gloves players use to the uniforms worn has gone through a transformation.

Even the way players are taught the game has changed. There is now more technology involved in the game than ever before. However, according to two-time U.S. Olympian and Cal State Northridge softball coach Tairia Flowers, there is no better teacher of softball than the pure basics.

“The biggest thing we see is being able to play catch,” Flowers said. “Field the ball, throw it to a target, be able to hit somebody in the chest every single time. If you watch, the majority of the errors in games at this level are going to be throwing mistakes because they are rushing their tempo.”

Flowers, who is also serving as coach for USA Softball’s developmental squad, the USA Elite, led the team to a fourth-place finish at the World Cup of Softball last week in Oklahoma City. Even at the international level, Flowers likes to see her players get in serious work on the tee. Hitting the ball off a tee is something little kids do when they are first learning how to play the game, but she feels it works just as well in keeping the skills of veteran players sharp.

“I am always a fan of tee work,” Flowers said. “I think you can get a ton of work in without having to adjust to speed and tempo and the ball moving. You can perfect your swing off the tee.”

The Elite roster is filled with women of varying degrees of experience and ages. That includes Sam Fischer, who has been with USA Softball since 2012.

Fischer agrees with her coach that the most important work softball players of all experience levels can do is throw, catch, hit, and field.

“Keep it simple. Always keep it simple,” said Fischer, who is a native of Simi Valley, California. “I’ve been around for a long time, and there are more and more things that are coming out that are taking away from the basics. So if we get back to basics and just work on the foundation, girls are going to get better than if they use all these tool and different stuff. Keep it simple for sure.”

For 18-year-old Madilyn Nickles, who has yet to even start her collegiate career at UCLA, training her mind to do the right movement in the right moment is part of the keep it simple philosophy. She says it helped her land a spot with USA Softball at such a young age.

“I did mental drills more than anything,” Nickles said. “That was always my biggest issue growing up. It still is to this day. Physically I’d say do the little things. The little tweaky little drills that you need to do to become successful. You can’t really do the same exact thing every time in a game. You just really need to work on things that will make you confident in a game.”

Fischer does suggest one bit of technology to help players get better. But even that is just a prelude to more hard work.

“What I would say with the technology we have now, film yourself when you’re hitting,” Fischer said. “Film yourself when you’re fielding. Watch what the girls on the USA team or in college are doing and see what looks similar. See what they do differently, what they do better. And just get out and get reps. When I was growing up I really didn’t do a ton of drills. But I was out there getting hundreds and hundreds of reps. So no matter what, you’re going to get better when you’re practicing. Even if you are just swinging off a tee, you’re going to get better.”

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Japan knocks of Team USA in World Cup

Pitcher Jaclyn Traina delivers a pitch for Team USA during World Cup of Softball XI in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Torrey Purvey)

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – After a two year absence the World Cup of Softball made its return to Oklahoma City this summer. But just like in most years, the two best softball programs in the world, met up again in the finale to battle over the crown.

Facing Japan, it was all set up for Team USA in the Gold Medal game to close out the week as heroes.

Instead it was Japan who found a way to close the door on a potent USA lineup and earn a 2-1 victory July 10 at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City.

“Tonight against a good team like Japan, we gave them some free bases and really didn’t have the type of hitting that we needed,” said catcher Aubree Munro.

With the victory Japan claimed the World Cup of Softball XI gold medal, while the Americans were left with the silver. It was their only loss of the week.

“I was very proud of the fact that we had young kids step up this week, we didn’t panic and sometimes the difference between a Gold and Silver is a fingernail,” USA coach Ken Eriksen said. “I think when you take a look up and down our lineup, everybody can hit it well.  We’ve got rookie pitchers out here that are moving in the right direction.  I can’t wait for us to get to the Worlds (Championships) and get started.”

Team USA faced Japan last year In the World Cup and came away with an easy 6-1 win. Japan turned the tables this time around.

Trailing 2-1 heading into the top of the seventh inning, Team USA loaded the bases with only one out on the board. A single hit could either tie the contest or also plate the go ahead run.

But Team USA was unable to connect and Japan got the final two outs to close out the night.

Japan went undefeated at 7-0 while Team USA finished the World Cup of Softball with a 6-1 record.

“I think this week was good for us in really coming together,” Munro said. “Ti felt like this tournament really gave us an opportunity to play as a team consistently. It wasn’t just a few games here or there like we had been doing over the last month. It was really good for us to be in the same area for an extended period of time. Also, every time you play Japan, you get more information. You are more prepared for the next time you play Japan. They are a really good team. They prepare very well. So this is going to help us.”

Japan has defeated Team USA in 3 of the 4 meetings this summer.

USA Elite, the national team’s developmental squad, lost a heart breaker to Japan July 9 to close out pool play. That placed them in the Bronze medal game against Australia.

One again, the Elite saw their contest come down to the final innings, before they fell 4-3.

“The team hit the ball well, it just comes down to whoever plays the best at the end,” Elite coach Tairia Flowers. “This team can swing the bat, and now they’ve gotten the chance to see how international softball is. We have some really talented girls.  They’re young, they’re excited and they want to get better.”

Because of the success of both USA teams at the World Cup, Eriksen is excited for what the future offers the rest of the year at the WBSC World Championships (July 15-24) and the Japan Cup (Aug. 24-Sept. 5).

“You take a look at what we did, and what the USA Elite did,” Eriksen said, “and you can see the future is bright for USA Softball.”

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Stunning developments

Oklahoma’s Jayden Chestnut and Erin Miller sit stunned during post game press conference after watching Auburn comeback to beat them Tuesday in the Womens’s College World Series. (Photo by Michael Kinney)

 

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – Jayden Chestnut finally got her first taste of the Women’s College World Series. Through four games of the tournament the Oklahoma freshman had only watched as Paige Parker pitched every inning.

But with Parker getting the night off Tuesday, Chestnut finally got the call she had been waiting on. Unfortunately for her, she was on the wrong end of one of the most remarkable comebacks and finishes in World Series history as the Sooners lost 11-7 to Auburn at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

“Quite a game,” OU coach Patty Gasso said. “Another tough game for two teams that played really hard. Jayden Chestnut specifically fought her tail off tonight. I thought our offense came out and attacked early, then we just went a little stagnant. That hurt us. We make no excuses for the loss. We just needed to execute a little bit better.”

The game was tied at 7-7 heading into extra innings. When the Sooners didn’t score in the top of the eighth, it set up the Tigers to find a way to win it in the bottom of the inning.

After Chestnut got the first out, she allowed a bunt, a single and a walk to load the bases. That brought Auburn’s Emily Carosone to the plate. Chestnut delivered the first pitch and Carosone crushed a grand slam over the right field fence to end the game.

“Really right before I got in the box I was thinking, hit it hard, because if I hit it hard and it went somewhere, Victoria (Draper) was going to score no matter what,” Carosone said. “But I don’t know, that pitch was just there. It was – softball is a game of inches, and my bat was there. It’s amazing. God is good. God is good.”

The Tigers scored 11 straight runs to close out the game and tie the championship series at 1-1. It sets up a decisive Game 3 at 6 p.m. tonight with the winner being crowned the national champion.

Parker will be back on the mound for the Sooners. Not letting her pitch Tuesday was not a difficult decision for Gasso, who wanted her ace to be at 100 percent.

“Paige having this night off I think will help her tremendously for (Wednesday), and like I said, whether we have gas in our tank or not, we’re going to do everything we can tomorrow as a team,” Gasso said.

Malayka Martin picked up the win while Chestnut (9-1) suffered her first defeat of the season. She pitched 5.2 innings, allowed 11 hits, six runs and struck out three.

“I mean, I was always ready to go in, and I had a lot of excitement about it,” Chestnut said, “And my plan was to just go in and be fearless and keep us in the ballgame, and I think I executed that pretty well.”

Auburn’s Kaylee Carkson found herself in a jam at the very start. The Sooners had runners on second and third with Fale Avlu at the plate. Avlu hit a dribbler to second base and beat out the throw to knock in the first run of the game.

Kady Self added to the mounting problems in the second inning when she clobbered a solo homer into center field. Two straight defensive miscues by shortstop Whitney Jordan led to another run scoring.

The game was on the verge of getting out of hand when Caleigh Clifton and Shay Knighten laid down perfect bunts to plate two more runs.

After Sydney Romero singled in a run and Auburn had yet to register an out, Carlson was pulled for Rachel Walters. Nicole Pendley added another RBI before Auburn finally got out of the 2nd inning trailing 7-0.

Auburn quickly got over the shock of the onslaught and put three runs on the board in the bottom of the inning. Jordan did the honors with a 3-run homer off Stevens. An error by Self in left field allowed another run to score and Stevens was taken out of the game.

That brought Chestnut into the game. The Tigers loaded the bases and had an opportunity take the lead, but Chestnut struck out Jade Rhodes to end the inning leading 7-5.

The 11 total runs scored by both teams was the most in a single inning in championship series history.

Chestnut gave up a 2-run homer in the fourth inning that tied the game at 7-7. She kept the Tigers bats silent until the eighth.

“Yeah, it obviously didn’t turn out my way and it stings a little bit,” Chestnut said, “but I think it’s just motivation to come out tomorrow and just fight even harder.”

Now everything is riding on one game to win it all. The Sooners are confident they can get it done.

It’s about resiliency,” Erin Miller said. “It’s about how you answer. I think we’ve done a great job of that all season. Someone throws a punch, you throw it back. That’s the game of softball, I think. You’re going to see a dogfight tomorrow. It’s for a national championship; why wouldn’t you?”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eyeamtuth@gmail.com

Sooners title hopes still alive

By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY – For the second night in a row, Oklahoma faced a team it had played during the regular season. However, this matchup with Michigan in the Women’s College World Series carried a lot more weight than the early season matchup won by the Wolverines.

With a trip to the semifinals on the line, the Sooners held on to beat to beat the Wolverines 7-5 Saturday at the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.

Oklahoma will play at 8:30 p.m. tonight with a spot in the championship game up for grabs. They will face the winner of the Georgia and LSU tilt. The Sooners have to win just once to advance, while whoever they play will have to beat them twice due to the double elimination rules.

“Whatever comes our way, we talk about it,” OU coach Patti Gasso said. “We’re not afraid of anybody. We just know it’s our path and our journey. So whoever comes forward, we’re ready. That’s all we’ve been doing.”

However, it took everything the Sooners had to put themselves in this position.

Oklahoma took a 7-3 lead into the bottom of the seventh inning. Aiden Faulk and Lindsey Montemarano each came up with RBI singles to cut deficit to 7-5.

That brought Abby Ramirez to the plate with the bases loaded for Michigan. She worked the count full before grounded out to ended the game.

“I think the great thing about this team is there is a different hero every inning, every game, every pitch,” Oklahoma’s Erin Miller said. “I think we’re all just trying to contribute any way we can.”

Paige Parker (35-3) picked up the win after pitching a complete game. She allowed five runs and 12 hits while striking out eight.

“The top of their lineup is very, very tough,”Parker said. “Just trying to minimize anything they do. And just try to do my best to get them out. Let my defense work behind me.”

Shay Knighten led OU with two its and two RBIs.

It didn’t take long for Sooners to strike early in the night.

In her first at bat since hitting a walk off homer Friday night, Knighten hit a dribbler up the middle to knock in two runs. She later scored after stealing third and reaching home on an error to take a 3-0 lead.

Michigan tried to hit back in the bottom of the second when they had runners on second and third and one out. But Parker got Montemarano to pop out and Amanda Vargas to ground out to end the inning.

Sydney Romero got the Oklahoma fans on their feet in the top of the third when she crushed a solo homer to put OU up 4-0.

“I had a game-plan on that at bat,” Romero said. “I stuck with it and it got me a homerun.”

Oklahoma put constant pressure on Michigan’s Megan Betsa by being aggressive on the base paths. That led to six stolen bases for OU.

Michigan got on the board when Faulk smashed a 2-run homer in the bottom of the fourth.

The Wolverines loaded the bases for Sierra Romero, who hit a roller up the third base line to her sister. Sydney tried to throw her out, but it was too late. Sierra was safe and a run scored to close the gap to 4-3.

“i really wanted to throw her out,” Sydney laughed. “I was rooting for her. But I wasn’t at the same time. That was the toughest part. At the end of the day I had to play it just like a normal game.”

Nicole Pendley added to the Sooner’s homerun total when she hit a towering shot over the right field fence in the sixth. Oklahoma extended its lead to 5-3.

After pitching eight innings the night before, Parker was being hit all over the field by the Michigan batters. However, base running mistakes by the Wolverines got Parker out of the sixth inning undamaged. Oklahoma plated two more runs in the seventh to give them some breathing room. It was too much for Michigan to overcome.

“I just think we took a little while to get going,” Sierra Romero said. “And they got the first punch in and we should have just tried to come out a little bit better.”

Michael Kinney is a freelance writer and can be reached at Eeyamtruth@gmail.com

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