By GameChanger and Tom Glave, a freelance reporter for Red Line Editorial, Inc.
This year’s Lexington (Tenn.) High softball team has a pretty simple goal: get back to the state tournament for the sixth time in seven years.
“They know really from Day 1,” Lady Tigers coach Ronnie Burke said. “It’s not about making the district tournament or winning the district tournament. That’s just part of getting to the state tournament. We don’t have a whole lot of goals because our goal is to win the state tournament every year. We have the talent to do it again this year.”
The Lady Tigers, who won the Class AA state title in 2013, have set a couple of goals based on last year’s statistics to help guide them back to the tournament.
Burke wants his pitchers to throw strikes 75 percent of the time in games, but for now the Lady Tigers are starting with a goal of 70 percent with a focus on first-pitch strikes.
“That has basically gone right off of us using the GameChanger app the last three years,” Burke said.
Burke’s coaching staff tracks every pitch in practice on an iPad, and the feedback has been invaluable to his pitchers.
“After every game I talk to whoever pitches (and) go over stuff like that,” Burke said. “First-pitch strikes are huge. I love looking at stuff like percentage of walks that happen when it’s not a first-pitch strike.
“As soon as they walk off (the field), first thing they want to do is ask me what their percentages were. They just love that feedback during the season. They eat it up. It makes you want to get better.”
Burke said his pitchers have a better understanding of game situations and how their pitching affects outcomes because of the use of the stats.
The same is true for the Lady Tigers offense, which is aiming to hit at least 110 doubles and have its starters combine for a .350 batting average.
Both of those numbers would eclipse last year’s totals.
“We’re really big on hitting the ball to the opposite field,” Burke said. “We look at situations and see if (we did that). We can break it down (on the app). We can show them scoring opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of or praise them when they do hit the ball the other way. We can show them the spray chart.”
Burke said his team’s offseason workouts have focused on getting stronger so the Lady Tigers can drive hits into the gap. He doesn’t emphasize hitting home runs as much as hitting the ball the other way and being smart in certain situations.
“Two years ago we hit a ton of home runs, and last year we didn’t hit but 19, I think,” Burke said. “I don’t want them thinking we didn’t hit the ball as good, because we did score more runs last year than we did the year before.
“I can pull (the app) up at practice and show them what happened in (certain) situations. It’s as valuable a coaching tool as I’ve got.”
The statistical breakdown from GameChanger helps Burke reinforce what he preaches in practice.
“Instead of just saying, ‘Hit the ball the other way and we’re going to score a lot more runs,’ we can show them that we are hitting the ball the other way and scoring a lot more runs. It just benefits us because they understand what we’re talking about.”
The Lady Tigers like having statistical goals — and last year’s stats — to use as motivation for the upcoming season.
“They want to live up to that (and) want to beat (previous stats),” Burke said. “It’s easy to get competitive girls to do that.”