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Let there be softball: New Life resurrects program after 7 years
Though technically her softball team's home field is only a mile away from campus, New Life Christian High's Leanna Whiteley felt lost.
She tried not to show it, though accidentally let a few "Oh, God!" outbursts slip when she missed the strike zone in Tuesday's game against Buckingham Charter at Olivehurst-Linda Little League.
When she took the pitcher's circle in the fourth inning, she looked up to a friend in the stands and delivered a message she didn't want publicized.
Her friend couldn't understand that Whiteley was mouthing, "I've never pitched before."
Whiteley is one of six Crusaders who had not stepped on to a softball field before this year, and after New Life's ace pitcher moved to Washington in the middle of the season, Whiteley did what the team needed.
"My arm's going to fall off," Whiteley said in the dugout. "It's OK, who needs a right arm?"
New Life is learning the ups and downs of varsity softball again after reinstating the program this season following a seven-year hiatus.
Coach Stacy Smotherman, who led the Crusaders from 2000-2003 before the teams' disbandment, said a lack of athletes forced the school to drop the softball program.
"My sole reason (for bringing back the program) was these girls really wanted to play," Smotherman said. "When you come from a small, private Christian school, you have to have a lot of heart and dedication. A lot of times you don't have the best program. I wanted to build this back up."
Smotherman's slowly putting the pieces together with four girls who have experience playing softball, including her one travel-ball player, Haley Moody.
Putting together a lineup gets even more difficult when two starters are away at leadership camp and another player is out sick as was the case on Tuesday.
New Life's program is an ongoing recruiting mission for Smotherman, who even has to scour the halls on campus just to field a team some games.
If a girl is athletic and eligible, she can teach them the game.
"A lot of them picked it up, but they still have a long way to go," Smotherman said. "I just needed to learn to take it back to basics and build the program up."
It was hard for Smotherman to take much away from Tuesday's 19-2 loss to Buckingham Charter, especially when her starting pitcher hadn't thrown an inning in her life.
After the game she sat her team down to discuss other aspects of the game that were entirely controllable: errors, baserunning snafus, and miscommunication between players.
There are signs that this team is headed in the right direction, including a 5-3 loss to first-place Valley Christian (10-2). That game was tied 3-3 through the first three innings.
Smotherman's goal for this team is to finish league play with a .500 record and grab third place in the Sacramento Metro Athletic League, which would be good enough for a berth in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division VII playoffs.
With a 2-4 record in SMAL play, that goal is still within reach.
"From where they came from to now, if we're a .500 ballclub that's a great accomplishment," Smotherman said.
Holding her throbbing right arm and sitting on a bucket, Whiteley received the game ball from Smotherman following Tuesday's game.
She feels more at home on the carpet-covered floor of New Life's basketball gym where she drained shots for the Crusaders' girls basketball team.
In a season where any slight improvement is huge for the program, it doesn't matter if she didn't know how to pitch at 12:30 p.m.
At 4:30, she just finished her first complete game as a varsity softball player.
"It's a young program," Smotherman said. "We're going to have stuff to build on in the future."