CHARLOTTESVILLE — For the Eastern Hancock softball team and head coach Sue Anderson, this quote from the book “Finished It” has become a way of life — a simple reminder of the bond the Royals have formed each time they take the field.
And although similar in many aspects to other high school coaches, Anderson teaches on a path less traveled. Rather than praise her team at season’s end, Anderson repeatedly preaches togetherness, handing out team awards at the end of the year rather than individual.
For Eastern Hancock, which just entered the April 4 Indiana Coaches of Girls Sports Association poll at No. 14, Anderson’s approach has been nearly flawless. In her third season in control, Anderson has compiled a 39-13 record, including a 15-2 mark in the Mid-Hoosier Conference.
“Fifteen against one is our motto,” Anderson said. “We strive to be so close and united that we play as one team. We have to get to the point as a team that even under all the pressure, stress, bad days, that we may bend but we won’t break. Fifteen against one, all beating as one heartbeat.”
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At 2-0 this season, Eastern Hancock has wins against Cambridge City Lincoln, 2-0, and Randolph Southern, 14-0. It managed 18 wins in Anderson’s first season at the school and 19 games victories last year.
However, in 2015, the team failed to receive a vote in the top 25 poll. But that’s never bothered Anderson or Eastern Hancock as the team simply continues to grow as one.
“I honestly haven’t even looked at the polls since I’ve been here,” Anderson said. “Day in and day out, we are striving to be the team that is different.
“When people see us play, we are playing for a greater purpose and for a purpose that will be remembered long after the stat book is closed. We have now realized that by making the team better, we are making ourselves better — better isn’t always found in the stats.”
Senior Darby Shaw, one in the core group that has been with Anderson from the beginning, is just one who has truly benefited from the new style of leadership and team-first attitude, Anderson noted.
“We always really focused on playing as one,” Shaw said, who finished 8-2 on the mound last season with a 1.17 ERA. “It’s really hard to beat a team that plays as one. Coach Anderson pushes us physically, but mentally as well. She’s helped us come together by demanding it from us.”
Shaw and classmate Jordan Pierson, who hits leadoff and plays centerfield, are the only two seniors on this season’s roster. But a deep junior class, including infielder Kaysi Gilbert, catcher Peyton West, left fielder Savannah Patterson and third baseman Brooke Walden, have played a significant role on varsity since Anderson’s arrival.
West said Anderson and her husband, John Anderson, repeat one sentence each practice, “There’s two things you can control, your attitude and your effort.”
“They’ve said this so many times in the past three years, so it kind of sticks in your head,” West continued. “Softball is a very unpredictable game. There’s all kinds of elements we can’t control, like the weather, the opponent’s field (condition) and the pitch you’ll be throw at your next at-bat.
“But Sue is very confident in the two things we can control: our attitude and our effort. She has big goals for us as a team.”
Anderson even trusts West so much while catching for Shaw that, recently, she has allowed the junior the call her own games — a rare feat in high school softball.
And offensively, in Anderson’s first year with the team, Eastern Hancock finished with a .386 combined batting average and produced 67 doubles off 297 hits. One year later, the Royals proved more efficient, combining for a .425 team average with 83 doubles off 293 hits.
One area Eastern Hancock is surely not short on is power. Aside from Shaw, who hit .524 last season with 17 RBIs, Walden and Patterson return to a threatening lineup after finishing in the top five in home runs and slugging percentage last year in the conference.
Walden, who hit five deep balls last season, has 11 total home runs for her career. Patterson finished with three homers last year while Gilbert added three of her own.
What makes Eastern Hancock unique, however, is its combination of power and speed. With West, Gilbert and Pierson, who combined for 37 stolen bases in 2015, the Royals are a threat to run away with any game in a hurry.
The trio can also hit for power, as each finished with over 10 doubles last season.
“Once we get a runner on, there’s no doubt that with their speed, a big hit will move them,” Shaw said.
Sophomores Micah Black (15 stolen bases) and Bree Ashby (seven runs) and junior Reagan Hunt (13 hits) also return with experience and will add depth to an already deep Eastern Hancock lineup.
Although, through the grind of the season, Anderson said she knows every player will need to make a significant contribution for the team to reach its overall goal.
“At the end of the day, checking ourselves and making sure that we are giving everything we can and making sure our tank is empty, that is the true meaning of success,” Anderson said. “That is what will get you to win that championship.”
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