Buffs forge ahead with new staff

by: JEFF WILSON/THE PIONEER - Madras pitcher Kira Thomas throws some batting practice during the White Buffalos' practice session Friday. Thomas should add some depth to an already deep staff. Madras opens its season Monday at home.One thing is certain in the world of coaching; a new coach means a new philosophy.

And while Charlie Brown is not actually new to the Madras High softball climate, the first-year coach of the White Buffalos’ fastpitch team has his own ideas of how things should and will be done.

His Buffs found that out last week as Brown conducted tryouts during the first three days of spring practice, gearing up for the March 18 opener against La Pine.

Brown, who takes over for Shawna McConnell on an interim basis, has coached fastpitch at different levels for many years in and around the area. He has seen two daughters wear the Madras colors and will now guide the ship in McConnell’s absence.

While Brown has said he is only keeping the seat warm until McConnell is ready to return (she stepped down last year to pursue a master’s degree), he wants to win.

He takes over a team loaded with underclassmen and one that just missed out on the state playoffs last season. Madras finished 15-12 overall and 7-8 in Tri-Valley play and lost to North Marion in the play-in game.

Brown sat down last week to discuss the five key issues that he feels could lead to success for the season and especially in Class 4A Tri-Valley League play.

Defense: In the world of fastpitch, nothing makes or breaks a team like its defense. And Brown likes what he sees.

While the Buff have yet to start working on actual defensive drills, the way the girls handled the ball during tryouts was enough to tell Brown what he needed to know.

“We’re pretty sound, but there’s still some rust we have to knock off,” Brown said.

Brown preaches to his pitchers to keep the ball low and produce ground balls for easy outs. That thinking works with solid returners in the infield, including junior Shelby Mauritson at shortstop, Jasmyn Reese and Elyse Bagley alternating at second and Elysia Moran, who will move to third this year.

Throw in sophomore Chelsea Buck and the Buffs should be solid.

The Madras outfield will be anchored by junior Keeley Brown, while Kasheena Stevens also returns.

Pitching: This could be the strength of the team with Reese returning as the team’s ace and Bagley as the Buffs’ second starter.

The key will be developing some of the younger girls and finding time at the junior varsity level for them to throw. Brown said he would like to have three to four girls ready to go at anytime so developing depth is the top priority for now.

“They can all pitch; we need to find out which ones can handle the pressure,” Brown said. “Which ones have the movement and which ones have the bat to go with it, so we have the full package out there.”

At least for the first part of the season, many of the girls will be on a one-week rotation between varsity and JV in order to get work in. From there, their performance in the circle will determine playing time.

But Reese is the Buffs No. 1 starter after her dominating performance last season while Bagley will get her innings as well.

Hitting: An area of concern right off the bat is his team’s ability to make good contact on the outside corner of the plate. It is something that Brown has started working on and will continue to do so throughout the season.

“In the past, that’s always been a real rough area for us,” Brown said. “We are working that really hard right now.”

In order to give his players the best chance for success at the plate, Brown and his staff have been working on speed chances early, trying to get the girls comfortable at the plate and used to seeing varying pitch speeds instead of just hitting of a pitching machine over and over.

It’s a work in progress.

“I think that as long as they keep their heads down and follow the drills we’ve been working on, they will do a great job,” Brown said.

Working to the Buffs advantage is a core group of returners that have already proven they can hit. And with power.

Leading the way is Mauritson, who can swing a big bat. Brown has also proven she can produce at the plate while, Moran really caught fire toward the end of last season and could help form a tough middle of the lineup.

Attitude: Players know that tryouts can be a pain, especially established upperclassmen. But the attitude Brown saw throughout the first week has him excited about the rest of the season.

“Through the three days of tryouts, every player gave me 110 percent. And then some,” Brown said. “I had to sort of slow them down a bit. They were trying to do everything they can.”

Brown added that the girls have been attentive and willing to do what has been asked of them. That kind of attitude will go a long way throughout a long season.

“We’ve got a pretty good dynamic, some pretty good leadership out here already,” Brown said. “We’ll have to see which ones want to work hard to get their shot.”

Coaching: Brown has been all over the map as far as coaching fastpitch. He has spent five seasons helping the Buffs while his daughters played and also coached local SAS teams

His philosophy is simple: work hard and get rewarded for it.

“I’ve told every girl on the team, no one has a dedicated spot on the team,” Brown said. “It’s about work. If someone is working harder than you are, and they want it and they are putting in that effort, then we are going to give them that opportunity.”

And that way of thinking must sound good to the huge group of freshmen that have turned out this year.

Brown said over half the girls that came to practice the first week are freshmen, and they will get the chance to prove themselves and play.

“Honestly, if they work hard, I see them at the top of the group in this league,” Brown said. “With some practice and some honing, the sky’s the limit.”

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