CEDAR LAKE | Hanover Central coach Larry McMillen could be considered softball’s version of Yoda with as long as he’s been involved in the sport.
And in the same ilk of Yoda’s famous, “Fear leads to anger; anger leads to hate; hate leads to suffering,” McMillen has his own philosophical outlook on softball that’s working this season.
“We hit a lot of home runs last year, and that leads to fly outs and that leads to the offense stalling,” he said.
An example he prefers to forget is last year’s Twin Lakes Semistate loss to Fairfield in the semifinals. Melissa Balkema hit a three-run home run early in the game, and the Wildcats failed to score any more runs, leading to a 4-3 loss in eight innings.
Hence, why McMillen calls homers “rally killers.”
This year, McMillen’s "Force" is with the Wildcats.
“I think we have half as many home runs as last year,” he analyzed. “Runs are up as a whole. Batting average is up as a whole. Morale is up as a whole.”
An example he proudly brings up is Tuesday’s regional victory over Griffith. Ashley Yoways led off the game with a home run, leading to a three-run inning. But the team had six fly outs in the first three innings.
“In the top of the fourth, I told them to go back to what they do best by hitting the ball on the ground,” he said. “They scored six runs in the last four innings.”
Balkema is the epitome of McMillen’s philosophy. Last year, she led the team with six home runs. This year she has half as many, but has six bunt singles from the cleanup spot (No. 4) in the batting order.
“Base hits win ball games. It happens a lot … really, it’s true,” Balkema said, making sure she was convincing and not just saying it because her Jedi Master coach was standing nearby.
But she really likes home runs better than bunt singles like most kids, right?
“Both are equally as good,” the junior said, sounding like she could have been a victim of a Jedi mind trick. “It shows the variety of what I can do.”
The proof is in the pudding. Balkema’s batting average has risen almost 20 points from the end of the regular season to .402.
McMillen’s mantra may be considered outdated with the propensity of home runs in the game after the pitching rubber was extended three feet from home plate, but he prefers it that way.
“We play old school softball here,” he said. “We’re playing smarter this year, looking where people are playing defense and doing things that help the team out.”
They also prefer being the road team on the scoreboard, because it’s an extra chance at more old school hitting.
“I love being the visitors because it’s more at-bats,” Balkema said.
This year’s version of the Wildcats sits in the same position as last year’s. But from the top on down, there seems to be more optimism this time.
“I like this team better,” Balkema said. “We have more of a team concept with one through nine in the lineup all contributing throughout the whole year.”
Again, McMillen was nearby but there was no evidence of a Jedi mind trick.
“These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” — Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars IV: A New Hope.