Patriots trying to slap to 12th straight state tournament
Pesky, irksome, or downright frustrataing. You can call the Liberty slapping Patriots whatever you want because once they hit the field, they won’t slow down enough to hear you. The Liberty softball team is using slapping, speed and small-ball to have a big season in 2008.
Slappers are left-handed, quick batters that use a swing close to a bunt. The swing is designed to keep the ball in the infield and get the batter out of the box and towards first base quickly. Once the players get on base, they can steal to get into scoring position for other batters.
According to Kate Faoro, a junior outfielder and slapper, there are three main ways to slap. A drag bunt, a slap and a power slap. Each has a use in a specific situation with the drag bunt being closest to a normal bunt and the power slap being closest to a normal swing.
“Our job is just to get one base,” said Hannah Sherwood, a senior outfielder and slapper for Liberty. “And when we do get on base, we cause chaos.”
The nature of the hit and stealing ability once the slappers get on base puts pressure on opposing defenses.
“It makes the defense rush to get throws in,” said Montessa Califano, a junior Liberty shortstop. “So there’s a better chance of an overthrow or mistake.”
Once the Patriots’ slappers get on a roll, it can be hard to stop the hits.
“It can become contagious and it makes you change your whole defense,” said Liberty coach Brian Hartman. “It can get pretty discouraging for the other team.”
The Patriots take pride in their strategy and how it wins games. “The other teams really get flustered sometimes,” said Linnea Laymance, an outfielder and slapper for Liberty. “The best players I know are slappers.”
The strategy hit Hartman in his first season at Liberty. He saw Liberty outfielder Marnie Koziol dominate (she hit over .400 and was selected KingCo most valuable player and state player of the year her senior season) with slapping and said to himself, “Holy gosh, this is deadly. This really works.”
At that point, Hartman was looking for an identity for his new team. “I was thinking about what our program was going to be about,” Hartman said. “It has just started building on itself. The slapping, the speed, the short game is what Liberty is all about.”
Hartman said he looks for a special type of player to become a slapper. Obviously, they need to be quick and athletic, but the player also needs to be committed in order to put in the effort as most players have to switch from right-handed batting to left-handed.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Califano said. “There’s always something to work on, there’s never a point that you reach where you’re just fine.
Califano said she sometimes works with another coach specifically for slapping. Faoro said she took thousands of practice swings with and without tees when making her transition from the right side to the left side to become a
Sherwood was a starter at Liberty as a freshman and hit .290 from the right side, before she made the switch to left-handed slapper.
Even with a great slapping strategy, the Patriots started 2008 slowly. The team lost four of the first five, but Hartman isn’t worried. “We’re just starting to play good ball, that’s pretty typical of Liberty,” he said.
Liberty is 7-4 overall and 5-2 in the KingCo 3A, which is good enough for a second place tie in the league. Since the 1-4 start (when Liberty still outscored opponents 22-17), the Patriots have gone 5-0, outscoring opponents 38-1. Other teams are starting to take notice of the success of the slapper strategy.
“We’re starting to see more slappers around the area,” Hartman said. “Other teams prepare for it more and emulate it more.”
As far as staying ahead of the growing trend of slappers, Hartman simply said his team has to implement the strategy better than anyone else.
The biggest advantage about slapping is that there isn’t a sure-fire way to stop it. Opposing teams can try strategies such as bringing in the corner infielders and the outfielders, but that can lead to base hits over the fielders’ heads. Teams that play back in normal position won’t get the ball fast enough to throw out the runners. Either way, the slappers are proving hard to stop.
Teams looking for pointers on how to stop the chaos on the basepaths shouldn’t look to Hartman. When asked how to stop the slappers, Hartman thought about it and said with a smile, “I guess you just have to strike them out.”
Adam McFadden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-255-3484, ext. 5054.