CASA GRANDE — During a long, emotional postgame huddle on a warm Tuesday evening, head coach Felipe Becerra gave his players a homework assignment.
On a note card, the Casa Grande Union (3-5, 1-5 in 5A Sonoran region) softball players were told to write down some of the things they want to contribute to the team in order to turn around their season after the Cougars suffered a five-inning, 11-1 defeat to Marana on Tuesday to extend their losing streak to five.
The idea is to get their goals on paper, and to solidify what every person can do to have a more successful run to end their season.
“I’m just trying to get them to turn their attitudes around,” Becerra said. “We’re hitting a little bit of a lull in our season right now.”
In many ways, the Marana game epitomized what has gone wrong as of late. The Tigers only scored in two of the five innings, but once the runs started coming in, it seemed like they would never stop.
It started with an error in the first inning that led to the next three runners getting on base. After a double play gave the Cougars hope of minimizing the dame, a double by starting pitcher Brianna Wunderle brought in two more runs to give Marana a 4-0 lead right off the bat.
Then in the third inning, the Tigers got their first six batters, and nine of the first 10, on base to put the game out of reach. By the time the third out was recorded, Marana had put up seven more runs on the board.
Contributing to the Cougars’ plight is the recent absence of their three top pitchers, including No. 1 starter Brianna Sanchez, who finally returned to the mound for the final few innings to get some work in.
Sanchez, after a rocky beginning attributed to being her first time throwing in five days, settled the game down and didn’t allow any runs the final two innings of the game.
“It’s one of those things where when you’re faced with adversity like that, your bats need to step up even higher, and your defense too,” Becerra said. “But that’s the sign of a young team. We’re growing, we’re getting better. I expected us to take our lumps, but not in this way.”
The lone Cougar run came in the bottom of the second inning, Jordan Ruble singled to score Demi Choate. It was the most promising inning for Union, but it ended prematurely when a runner was called out for not trying to get back to first base while the pitcher had the ball.
The Cougars sprinkled in a hit here and there against Wunderle, but the sophomore kept the offense from stringing together much offense, and those baserunners never made it home after that.
“We have a couple players who are in slumps right now, and that really led to us not producing a lot of runs,” Becerra said. “The thing is, we haven’t had a lot of practice time because of (recent games), and practice is when you get a lot of those things fixed.”
Becerra said the practice following the game would also focus on team-building, as the players have to reassure each other that they’re still a team that has each other’s backs. Gaining that confidence and sense of responsibility, he said, is key to getting them mentally back in the game.
“It’s really about letting them know that they’re the same team they were a week or two ago,” Becerra said. “We were competing with the best teams. … So it’s one of those things where we’re a Jekyll and Hyde team. But we can change that.”