You can always tell when practice is winding down for ASU softball.
When a screen is dragged in from the pitcher’s circle, part of the team puts on helmets while the other half grab their gloves, and the Sun Devils get ready to finish practice how they always do: with situational drills.
The staple of ASU softball is how the girls have been ending practice for years and is also a fundamental core of practice for coach Craig Nicholson.
“I’m a big believer that it’s great to do the little things,” Nicholson said. “But you got to be able to put it all together at the end and be able to do it as a team.”
All Nicholson has to say is “situational drills” and the team is collecting its gear and springing to the field while chirping about “sits,” the playful name the players call the drill.
It’s done at a fast pace with each batter getting one live at-bat with runners on base as the defense plays out the infinite possibilities that could be generated.
Batters work their way in and out of the lineup to run the basepaths and repeat again. This is not a batting practice drill though, because the defense focuses heavily on “defensive communication” and “making good decisions with the ball.”
“All we’re doing is taking the pitcher vs. hitter part out of the equation and everything else kind of stays the same,” Nicholson said.
This stripped-down version of the game is what Nicholson believes is the core of what the game is about, not just how a pitcher will do against a hitter, but how the team responds to any given thing that happens outside of that.
Senior right fielder Bailey Wigness has been finishing practice this way for four years and said the drill is “huge” in preparing for games and staying confident when odd circumstances come during actual play.
“I love situations,” Wigness said. “I really think it helps us out, because when we get to the games, there isn’t a lot we haven’t seen, because we do them for 45-plus minutes a practice.”
The team does individual work throughout practice, as is expected. Players hit in the cage and fielders work on grounders, but taking all the pieces of individual skills and putting them on the field is often more valuable than any single drill.
The speed of the drill alone can be dizzying and nobody can let their focus drop for a second. Situations are supposed to go fast as one batter replaces the previous one and the fielders could have a shot hit at them at any moment. Everyone has a place to be at all times, and this accelerated speed helps athletes like junior left fielder Elizabeth Caporuscio when they face other teams.
“It’s so fast-paced; it’s one situation after another. It makes the game that much slower and that much easier for us,” Caporuscio said. “I love it, it’s my favorite part.”
There is no drill more fundamental and no part of practice more routine than the crack of bats and calls of “mine, mine, mine” or “cut two” from the field during situational drills.
The drill’s effectiveness is apparent as the girls walk off the field discussing plays that happened and how to handle them again. This is a drill that has been vital to ASU softball for years in the past and will stay with Nicholson as he continues his career at ASU.
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