Sheldon softball had the talent and heart of a champion. Its coach helped them find it just in time.
By JIM McCUE | SportStars
Sheldon softball coach Mary Jo Truesdale has used lots of tactics to motivate and inspire her teams to league and section titles while building a powerhouse program.
A veteran coach of more than 30 years, Truesdale is an all-business, back-to-basics problem solver for the rare glitches that have surfaced with her teams.
So, it was a surprise to the 2012 Huskies — and even a bit of a surprise to herself — that Truesdale went “outside the box” to choose her motivating tools for Sheldon after an inconsistent regular season resulted in the Huskies backing in to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs on the final day of the season.
Rather than approaching her team with bats, balls, and gloves to prepare her players for their second chance provided by the playoffs, the coach used Slip N’ Slides and toilet paper to start an improbable and impressive playoff run that concluded with the school’s fifth section crown.
“It was surprising to me because coach has always been all business with practices,” said senior pitcher Alexis Cooper. “We understood that it would be the last time to be around each other, so it was nice to enjoy the day with the entire team and realize that it was more important to enjoy our senior season than to win the section title.”
Even the team’s leader in smiles and fun, senior outfielder Danielle Wiltz was caught off guard by the coach’s play day.
“It was a surprise to me,” said Wiltz. “It was not something that any of us expected from coach, but I am glad that she did it.”
After a close 5-3 victory over Tracy in their playoff opener, the
team’s seniors had a day off before the team was set to regroup on Thursday.
Truesdale considered running a practice stressing fundamentals, but decided instead to break from tradition and her old-school ways to build team chemistry with a “fun day.”
Truesdale had Slip N’ Slide waterslides and water balloons ready for the girls and told her team to take a day off to relax and have fun before they faced Pitman-Turlock Saturday.
After the team bonded with water play, the coach gathered her players to use water once more to signal a new start to the team’s second chance. Truesdale gave each player several squares of toilet paper to write down issues or problems that were encountered by Sheldon during an uncharacteristically inconsistent regular season. Then, one by one, players took their toilet paper to the restroom to “flush away” their problems and start anew.
“I knew this team had the talent to play the kind of softball they needed to play to win a section title,” Truesdale said. “But I think that they didn’t really believe in themselves the way we believed in them. We did not know which team would show up and wanted to do something to bring them together and illustrate the beginning of a new season.”
The Huskies followed up their fun day with a hard practice the day before the Pitman game that sparked a playoff run more dominant than any in recent memory. Sheldon hammered Pitman 16-1, before recording lopsided victories over Tokay (18-1), Elk Grove (10-2), and West-Tracy (18-1) to earn a spot in the section championship game against Delta River League rival Ponderosa.
“The bats, defense, and pitching finally all came together,” Truesdale said of her team’s string of big wins. “You could see the team’s confidence growing each game, and I knew that we were in a really good place.”
Where the team showed only flashes of brilliance during the regular season, success at the plate and in the field became the rule rather than the exception in the postseason.
“We knew that we had to step up our game and play the Sheldon way,” said Wiltz. “We all had faith and never lost it, so when things started clicking, we just kept it going.”
Despite the impressive run, the Huskies still had to click one more time. They had to do so against a Ponderosa team that won two of three against them during league play. While some doubters remained, the Huskies’ confidence had them believing no team could deny them a second consecutive section title.
“I had such confidence in the team and I felt really good going into that game,” catcher MeShalon Moore said of the championship game. “I wanted so badly to beat them.”
Moore’s excitement and confidence translated into a 4-for-4 performance to lead an 11-hit attack and an 8-1 win for the championship. In the last five games of the playoffs, Moore belted 14 hits in 18 at-bats while driving in 11 runs and scoring nine. In the final, her three-run home run in the fourth broke the game open and left little doubt Sheldon was the powerhouse section champion Truesdale and her players knew they were all along.
In the final five games, the Huskies outscored their opponents 70-6 while hammering 81 hits to cement their legacy.
“We talked all year about leaving behind a legacy,” Truesdale said of her senior class. “I believe that they did not want to leave behind a legacy of inconsistency and wanted instead to leave behind a championship legacy.”
The senior class included tri-captains Cooper, Moore, and Wiltz, who provided much of the team’s identity and leadership. Truesdale will have holes to fill, but believes that what they leave behind will benefit the players who are asked to lead the team in 2013.
“They fought through adversity and came out on top,” Truesdale said of her upperclassmen. “That’s the story that will be told about them and this team. They could have thrown their bats down and quit, but they never gave up. They never stopped working hard and continued to be leaders of this program.”
Cooper, who took over as pitcher after current Cal standout Jolene Henderson graduated, grew into a confident pitcher and will play at Pac-12 power Arizona State next year. Wiltz, a speedy leadoff hitter who Truesdale called “one of the best outfielders I have ever had the pleasure to coach,” will continue her softball career at the University of Nevada. Moore will rejoin sister Dejanee, a 2011 Sheldon graduate, at UC Santa Barbara.
Despite the loss of her tri-captains and four more seniors to graduation, Truesdale already has captains selected for next season when Erika Lane, Zamari Hinton, and Anessa Kaylor will be given the reins to determine their own legacy.
Whatever that might be, expect Sheldon and coach Truesdale to leave no tool or tactic unused.
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