It's just not catchers wearing masks
Over the weekend, Northwestern softball coach Cary Troxell saw an opposing player take a liner off the shin.
Moments later, in the same game, Troxell had to dodge a foul ball down the third baseline.
When it comes to high school softball, the close proximity of the pitchers, infielders and even coaches to the plate can be a bit intimidating, Because of that, several local players have decided to take some added precaution when playing this season.
A survey of TIMES NEWS area coaches has shown that nine position players have chosen to wear a protective mask, similar to those worn by catchers, when playing the field this season.
The Tigers' Troxell thinks it's a great idea.
"The safer we can make the game the better," said Troxell. "Things happen quick. When the ball comes off those bats, it could be dangerous. So, it helps protect the girls from any kind of potential danger that may happen.
"For instance, I was coaching third base on Saturday and one of our girls drilled one one down the line. I had to drop down to the ground to get out of its way. So, I know myself that things happens very fast. I was twice as far away [as the third baseman]. The pitchers are even closer."
Five of the area fielders wearing masks are pitchers. There are two from Northwestern and one from Lehighton, Northern Lehigh and Tamaqua.
One of those pitchers is the Blue Raiders' Bailey Pedersen. She started wearing the mask about two years ago playing tournament ball. Now a varsity player, the freshman plans to continue wearing it throughout her high school career because of the way it makes her feel on the mound.
"I have seen teammates get balls hit right back at them," Pedersen said. "I don't want the same thing happening to me. The mask really helps because it makes me feel more comfortable and not afraid of getting hit.
"With the mask, I can actually get in my groove a lot easier and I just feel a lot more comfortable playing my game."
The other local players wearing the protective masks are position players a first baseman, second baseman and two third basemen.
Jocelyn Hunsicker handles the hot corner for Lehighton. In softball, that often means playing in close and staring down the barrel of the bat.
"Playing third base, you get a lot of hard balls hit at you," Hunsicker said. "The coach of my tournament team is actually the one who suggested I wear the mask for the high school season. But, I'm really happy with my decision. It gives me more confidence in the field.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are only positives connected with wearing the mask. It's comfortable and it doesn't interfere with my vision. I really can't see any negatives with wearing it."
While Pedersen and Hunsicker made the choice to be proactive and wear the mask before they ever got hit in the face, Tamaqua's Carly Sassaman decided to don the protective mask last season after getting hit.
"Carly Sassaman, who is my catcher now, played the shortstop position for us last year," said Tamaqua coach Jill Barron. "She took a good bounce off the cheek bone in one game. After that, she ended up wearing the face mask the rest of the season.
"When a player takes a hit off the face like Carly did, she is more likely to wear a mask because they don't want to take any chance of it getting hit again and being worse."
Lehighton's Greg Poremba makes his players wear protective mouth pieces, but he leaves the choice up to this players when it comes to the masks.
"If anything, wearing the mask helps them ease their minds a little bit about playing the game," Poremba said. "It gives them a sense of knowing that if a ball happens to come at them in that area they are protected to a degree. And, safety should be a No. 1 priority in everything we do on the field.
"Even when we practice, we have to be careful of kids walking behind bats and balls being thrown all over the place. We have stressed to our kids that safety is No. 1."
With the close dimensions of a softball field and the continued emphasis on safety in sports, the amount of pitchers and fielders wearing mask will likely continue to grow in the future.
BASEBALL OVERLOAD ... The combination of some bad early-season weather and a pair of recently suspended games has created quite a busy two weeks for the Marian baseball team.
Starting with yesterday's game against Schuylkill Haven, the Colts will play 10 games in the span of just 12 days.
Marian has games scheduled Monday through Friday of this week and then, after having Saturday and Sunday off, will play Monday through Friday next week as well.
BOUNCE BACK SEASON ... A year after the Tamaqua baseball team sported a 5-14 overall record, the Blue Raiders have been able to surpass that win total even before the mid-point of the season.
The Raiders currently sit at 7-3 with a 4-1 record in Schuylkill League Division 1.
Over the last week, the Blue Raiders were able to muster huge wins against both North Schuylkill (10-8 victory) and Pine Grove (5-0 victory) to pass last year's win total with their sixth and seventh victory of the season.
A big reason for that has been the Tamaqua offense. They currently have a team batting average of .335, with three players batting over .400. Catcher Matt Roberts leads the team with a .536 average, freshman Matt Minchhoff is hitting .471, and Brett Kosciolek .464.
Kosciolek has hit four home runs this season while Roberts has hit two home runs, making that six total dingers for Tamaqua in 2013. They hit just two all of last season.
HURDLING HERTZOG... The Tamaqua 110 meter hurdler seems to be hitting his stride early in the 2013 track season. He already has three first place finishes in the 110HH in invitational type settings (Palisades, Tamaqua, Jim Thorpe), setting a personal best in the event at the Olympian Invite. He ran a time of 14.48 at Olympian Stadium last Friday night and looks primed to make a run at the gold at the PIAA Track and Field Championships in late May. Last year's gold medal winner at states ran a time of 14.45.