By Raymond Linex II
Anyone who has ever coached at any level knows when you have twice as many players as spots on the field or court, it can be a nightmare. In Hubbard, it’s working out just fine for the softball team.
After all, there seems to be more about team unity than just the matching highlighter yellow jerseys they wear. And that’s only if you show up on Tuesdays.
“When you have 19 girls, it’s hard to keep them happy,” Saucke said. “But while 10 are on the bench when nine are playing, (the 10) are their biggest fans. When you have one at bat, one in the circle, there are 17 cheering them on.”
The Lady Jags (22-6-1) indeed have something special going on. They face Trenton Friday in the Region II-1A semifinals. The one-game playoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Crandall high School.
Hubbard is coming off a big, 7-6 win over Mart in the regional quarterfinals. It was a rematch of District 11-1A’s champion and runner-up. Hubbard was on an unfamiliar side.
“Five years in a row, we won district,” said junior third baseman Kate Saucke, Mike’s daughter and the reigning Golden Circle Player of the year. “This year, we had a setback, and that was a shocker. But it made us stronger.”
Said senior shortstop Dallas Fletcher, “I’d much rather beat them in the third round than in district.”
There are high expectations in Hubbard. The Lady Jags are perennial playoff participants. Coach Saucke is in his 27th year, on his second stint in Hubbard (8th year) and has more than 450 wins.
But those high expectations are not simply tied to the field.
“By the time I get them, they’ve been through volleyball, basketball, track, tennis, golf, FFA ...,” Saucke said. “I’m just happy they show up for practice.”
He’s being a little modest. They show up, and depending on the day, in a different color. And always in full gear, down to pants and belts. They have four different colored practice jerseys. (They wear the highlighter yellow, as Coach Saucke calls it, on Tuesdays and Fridays, typical game days.) On Wednesdays, they wear “blaze orange.”
Why orange? If needed, they pick up trash along State Highway 31 in front of the school in addition to practicing.
“I’m pretty sure we’re the only team doing that,” junior centerfielder Nakaila Banks said.
There are also red T-shirts that say “RAKCUT” across the front. They wear those on Saturdays, when they are volunteering in town. It stand for “Random Acts of Kindness being Courteous, Unselfish and Trustworthy.”
Coach Saucke said he can take any of the girls anywhere. And does.
Annually, the team travels to play in a tournament in Corpus Christi. They raise all of the money required, Coach Saucke said. A Baptist church in the small town of Woodsboro, north of Corpus, takes them in and gives them a place to stay. Vicky Fletcher, Mike’s assistant and Dallas’ mother, cooks breakfast for them.
This year, the Lady Jags picked up trash for two hours in Woodsboro, just something to say thank you.
“When you have 19 players, it can get out of hand on a six-hour bus drive,” Dallas Fletcher said.
“But 19 players is fun when you’re picking up trash,” said Kate Saucke, drawing chuckles and approving head nods from Fletcher and Banks.
“That adds to the team cohesiveness,” Coach Saucke said.
The players do get along. For the most part, the girls said. They’re good about being team players, Fletcher said.
And they are ready for continued unity. They are not ready to pack up the gear and start facing the dog days of summer.
“Since our sophomore year, we have talked about this being our year,” Fletcher said.
“This is the dream team,” Kate Saucke said.
It has taken all 19 to get here, Fletcher said. And it’s in infectious.
When the Lady Jags took the lead over Mart last Friday, then padded it, Coach Saucke said he got a little more emotional than normal. Then he turned to look in the stands.
“There are all these little girls with our playoff T-shirts on,” Saucke said. “That gives me chills.”
The Lady Jags don’t mind the cramped bus rides, especially in mid-May.
“We’re healthy, we’re having fun, and these girls want to be here,” Saucke said.