When the game is on the line, it’s essential to lock in with a calm, mental approach.
Michael Thompson believes this is the key to infield defense in the latter innings of a contest.
As the head coach at West Laurens (GA) High School for the past 13 years, the program had made the state playoffs 12 times while racking up six regional titles, five Final Four appearances, three third place finishes and a state runner-up finish.
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The coach explained that being sharp on the basics defensively is a vital area devoted in practice.
“Our success has been a result of many really great kids who have played for us. We have always stressed defense. We try to make all the routine plays. We keep it simple,” Thompson said. “We try not to make any unnecessary throws. We hit our cuts on relays. Hitting is difficult so we try not to give anyone extra bases from our mistakes. We try to make them string several hits together to score a run.”
Thompson gets his players ready with a drill called “Picks and Tags”.
“I like to work all our infielders at every Infield position. We do a drill I call ‘“Picks and Tags.” Each girl gets a ball. We start at 3rd, she throws her ball to me standing about 10-15 yards away. Then she gets in a position to receive a throw. I then throw her a short hop, she picks it and applies a tag. She goes to the back of line and the next girl hops up,” Thompson said. “We work every girl several times from every angle a 3rd baseman might receive a throw in a game. I also throw in a few backhand picks, high throws and throws where they have to come away from the bag to catch the ball and get back to make a tag. We then move to 2nd base and repeat the drill and then to 1st.”
West Laurens has been doing the drill for a decade now and it takes anywhere from 5-10 to complete based on how many throws Thompson gives to each player. West Laurens works on the drill a couple times a week while utilizing a different angle each time.
Sometimes for fun, the team turns it into a competition. For example, If a ball is not picked and tagged cleanly then that player is out and they go until there’s one player left.
Additional, West Laurens also sometimes works in a force play with the drill.
“Girls that play first base are used to force plays at their bag, so they work a lot on moving on the bag and reading throws but non-1st base infielders don't work it a lot,” Thompson said. “So we also mix in some force plays in order to hopefully get more bang-bang plays to go our way.”
The margin between winning and losing can often be measured by flexibility in the clutch.
“I feel like most softball games that are meaningful are going to be close games and often decided by one or two close plays around the bag,” Thompson said. “We know we are not going to make every throw right where it needs to be. So with this drill we hopefully are able to get better at making plays on thrown balls from catchers, outfielders, other infielders that are short hops, high throws, or balls off target. By working on this at practice we hopefully get outs on these plays that many teams don't.”
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