by BRYAN EVERSON
Troy coach Tom Calnen complimented the Avondale coaching staff late in Thursday evening’s game as the Yellow Jackets outlasted his team with a style teams of his in the past executed so well.
“She’s using speed and a small ball, which is what we’ve been using forever until this year,” said Calnen, whose team dropped a 10-5 contest. “We got beat at our own game, but hopefully it’s something we can learn from. We’ve got to start turning the corner or it’s going to be a short season, unfortunately.”
“This was a microcosm of our season; you have to play clean softball. We had two very bad innings, and when that happens, you’re on the other side of the scoreboard. This has kind of bit us all year long, where if we get pitching then we don’t play defense, and if we play defense we don’t pitch.”
The Colts dug themselves a three run hole in the first inning, but cut down on the mistakes as junior pitcher Caitlyn Moon settled into a groove on the mound, and trailed just 4-1 through four innings, getting a run back thanks to singles from Brittaney Malaga and Saeha Lederle.
Moon used her bat to trigger a comeback in the top of the sixth inning with a one-out double to left field, and scored immediately after a bad throw that followed Lily Aldinger’s infield single, making it 4-2. Mary Cianciolo also reached base when a pop-up in shallow right field was dropped, and Aldinger crossed the plate for Troy’s third run on a sacrifice bunt by Gabrielle Francois. With still just one out, the tying run came as Emma Marshall’s routine pop fly was lost in shallow center field, allowing Cianciolo to score.
Senior Miranda Urban gave Troy (3-14) its first lead of the game after a pitching change by the Yellow Jackets with a left-field triple, but the reliever was able to end the damage to get the home side out of the inning.
Avondale responded immediately, though, capitalizing on some mistakes and bad hops to score six runs before the Colts were able to record any outs in the bottom of the sixth, leaving the Yellow Jackets with the lead for good.
It was another loss in what’s been a difficult season for Calnen’s group. Now in his 23rd season as head coach, he spoke about his team’s talent, but said the pieces need to come together quickly.
“We’re extremely fast and athletic as heck, just the softball IQ is new for some of the players, which makes it tough,” he said. “And the bunt-slap game is coming for some, but it’s just a process. We’re just hoping that process can turn us over here pretty quick.”
Perhaps wanting it even more and just as soon is his daughter, Julia, a senior who’s been playing at the varsity level since the end of her freshman year.
“I want to turn this year around, and I want to do it quick,” she said. “We’re on the clock, and [playoffs] are two weeks away.”
“Our biggest thing is becoming resilient, and we’re working on it. Hopefully, we’ll pull through.”
Things haven’t come as easy at times for the coach’s daughter as his success over the years at Troy, where the elder Calnen has led the program to three state semifinals and won nearly 20 district titles, including a recent three-year run from 2013-15.
“[Being the coach’s daughter] has a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Julia said. “The toughest part is the voices on the outside of the fence, doubting that I’m on the field just because I’m my dad’s kid, but it’s fun to prove them wrong.” She called it “indescribable” to win a district title playing for her dad, who hopes some of the lessons learned in the losses will help bring about some post-season success.
“I would love for these kids to experience winning a [district] championship,” the elder Calnen said. “The older ones all have, the younger ones have not. For them to be able to do that will maybe help them understand what it’s going to take to get it done in the year following.”
The Colts will have the benefit of hosting a district that’s without a definitive favorite, and their coach feels they’re plenty capable of adding another title to the banner.
“If we pitch and play clean defense, we’ll be fine,” Calnen said. “We’ve just got to do it.”