On a day when the spotlight was square on Elk Lake softball coach Tony Blaisure, senior Whitney Tyler stole the show.
Not that Blaisure minded one bit.
Tyler tripled, doubled and fired an 11-strikeout, one-hit gem in the circle to help her coach lock up coaching win No. 500, an 8-0 shutout of Forest City on Thursday.
“It’s about the girls,” said Blaisure, deflecting attention to where he felt it belonged. “Whitney’s had a great week for us. She started the week throwing a gem at Lackawanna Trail. She came in last night and finished up the game for us after Amanda (Mowry) struggled a little bit, and there was some pressure on her here because everybody knew what was going on. She came out here and she performed. I’m happy for her. I’m happy for all these kids.”
How dominating was Tyler in the Lackawanna League Division IV win?
Forest City’s Heather Agentowicz led off the game with a bunt single and reached third on a passed ball and wild pitch, but Tyler then struck out the side.
She had six strikeouts the first time through the lineup, and started the first 22 hitters she faced by throwing a strike.
“I didn’t realize it,” Tyler said. “Murph (assistant coach Mike Murphy) definitely preaches first-pitch strike, and if I don’t, they’re on my case. But it’s only to make me better. I knew it was a big day for (Blaisure). I just wanted to make sure he got his 500th win. Murph talked to me just before the game and told me he knew I could do it. Just keep strong, stay focused, keep your head on and do what we do best.”
As tough as she was in the circle, she proved to be a bigger thorn in the batter’s box.
Tyler ripped a towering triple to center to start the game and courtesy runner, senior Lydia Hunsinger, scored the first of three runs for a 1-0 lead.
“My teammates all backed me up and we played a good team game today,” Tyler said. “We got it together with the bats.”
Tyler walked in the third, swiped second and moved to third on a passed ball, where Hunsinger replaced her and scored on the back end of a double steal with senior Justine Johns.
Elk Lake’s lead then doubled with one swing in the fourth.
Junior Cheyanne Jenner singled and senior Amanda Mowry followed with a rocket opposite-field, two-run homer to left.
“I just swung at a good pitch,” Mowry said. “I was in a slump and I didn’t even think.”
The Lady Warriors then pulled away and tacked on four in the sixth — the big blow a two-run single by sophomore Lydia Lawrence that all but sewed up the milestone for the 56-year-old coach, now in his 32nd year.
“It’s hard to fathom 500,” Blaisure said. “Up here where we’re at, sometimes we can only get our league games in, and sometimes we only play 12 or 14 games. “But to get 500, it means I’ve had a lot of good kids, a lot of good coaches including my assistant Mike Murphy, whose been with me for 22 years. We just try to teach the fundamentals and teach the kids to play hard. And they do.”
Blaisure’s 400th win came on April 14, 2011, courtesy of a 10-0 victory over Western Wayne three games into his 26th season as head coach.
The winning didn’t stop there, however, as the Lady Warriors went on to close out the season with the team’s last District 2 Class AA championship by edging Nanticoke, 2-1.
“This has all been a culmination of all the great kids and coaches that I’ve been surrounded by,” Blaisure said. “It makes me happy and it’s satisfying to see the reward on the players’ faces, especially after the other night — it was all smiles. I have a lot of younger girls this year who had never been around a celebration like that, so that means a great deal to me and more so than the winning. In fact, I can probably tell you more of our bad losses than memorable wins, that’s just how we are as coaches.”
It’s been a consistent run to say the least, as Elk Lake has made it to the district or state playoffs in each of the past 30 seasons.
“We teach the fundamentals and consistency year after year, which is what I was taught when I went through Elk Lake,” Blaisure said. “I’ve taken the approach of fundamentals, academics and athletics and have used what I’ve learned through my coaching style. Consistency is a huge thing with any sport, and we’ve been luck enough to have that.”
That consistency averages out to about 16 wins per season since Blaisure took over the helm, and something he said long-time assistant coach Mike Murphy has played a vital role in for more than two days.
“There’s a lot of times when he’s coaching first base and I’m at third when this bond that we have just takes over,” Blaisure said. “He knows what I’m going to call with certain batters and I know what he’s going to call when we take turns giving signs. We’re always on the same wave length, and that’s been a huge aspect of our offensive side of play.”
No bond has also been stronger than with Blaisure and the many players that have come through at Elk Lake.
Though a small program hidden in Susquehanna County, the Lady Warriors still continue to find success.
“I think it’s because there’s that old cliche up here that there’s a lot of farmers who are now parents and instill a hard work ethic into their children,” Blaisure said. “That has extended onto our athletic fields, regardless of what sport, and I keep trying to reinforce that. If you work hard, you’ll be successful at anything, whether in athletics or life in general.”
Sports editor John Lund also contributed to this story.