In the past five seasons (including through last week) the Lady Falcons have won 117 games while losing a mere 15. They have been even more impressive in league play, winning 68 games while losing just four since the start of the 2005 season. Were Vegas casinos making book on them, you could become wealthy betting that the Falcons will wear the league crown at the end of every season.
And this season looks to be a case of déjà vu all over again. After dropping their season opener 0-4 to Archbishop Mitty, they won their next five games by the collective score of 37-3. That offensive run production might have been even higher, but the mercy rule was invoked in Freedom’s league-opening 11-0 victory over Liberty on March 25, ending the game after Liberty batted in the fifth.
While it obviously takes nine players to field a team, much of the credit for the team’s success over the years has been due to the genes and hard work of the Williams girls – first Amanda, then Hannah (and another Williams, freshman Madison, is now stepping into their very large shoes) – who have dominated on the mound and at the plate. Last year Hannah went 15-0 pitching for Freedom in league play (23-4 overall) while compiling a .649 slugging percentage. While fellow senior Chrissy Stalf (hitting .402) was also key to last year’s offense, and Freedom featured several outstanding fielders, it almost seemed like Freedom could have sent Hannah onto the field by herself (plus a catcher on defense and a runner on offense) and she would have won a heck of a lot of games.
Freedom’s moving from Amanda to Hannah was a bit like the Yankees acquiring Lou Gehrig after already having Babe Ruth. Falcon fans might well wonder if Madison will be the Joe DiMaggio who extends the string of greatness.
“I don’t know that you can compare anyone to Hannah,” said Freedom Manager Jeff Jonas. “To have Amanda is something that most coaches will never have. And then to have Hannah right after her, that’s like, whoa, it’s just a dream come true. Then you get Maddy. She’s had to work a little bit harder. She’s maybe not as natural at it as the two older sisters were. But she’s really worked hard for the last year on getting her movement and good spins on the ball.
“One thing she has that’s very similar to her sisters is: when the pressure gets on, she actually gets a little better. She doesn’t get real flustered out there. She’s basically the same kid whether the bases are loaded or not. I always thought that was a great trait that Amanda and Hannah both had. She’s got that trait too. And that’s what’s going to make her a successful pitcher as she goes through her career. She can handle the pressure.”
Boding well for the Falcons for the next four years is that they have not just one very good freshman pitcher in Williams, but two more: Lyveana Ilayan and Maleya Stamps. Ilayan pitched last week’s shutout of Liberty.
“Livvy did a good job keeping the ball down,” said Jonas. “We knew Liberty swings the bat pretty well. So we were hoping she’d keep the ball low and get a lot of groundballs, which she did. She didn’t have a bunch of walks today, which is important. That’s what we’ve kind of been telling her: if we can keep the walks down, our defense is pretty good and we can pretty much control the tempo a little bit there. She hit her spots. I thought her drop was working pretty well.
"Hopefully, we’re going to get her to develop some more pitches. She has five pitches, but to actually be able to throw those in a game situation as a freshman is asking a lot. But if you have two you’re better off than most. If you’ve got three then you’re really doing it. Her drop was working well, her curve was pretty good today and her fast ball she was spotting.”
Williams and Ilayan will be alternating in the starting spot while Stamps will be used in relief. “She’s got a lot of movement on the ball,” said Jonas of Stamps. “It looks like you should be able to hit it, but it gets real frustrating because it’s moving all over the place. It’s kind of like bringing in a screwball pitcher almost after seeing a fastballer for a while. And she’s one of the better freshman competitors I’ve seen; she’s a real fireplug.”
Helping the pitchers is a strong defensive lineup with lots of experience, including Jackie Zepeda at third, Kim Westlund at short, Kirstie Strelo in left, Malena Padilla in center and Priscilla Olmos in right. “It gives those young pitchers a good feeling,” said Jonas. “Because you know if the ball is hit near somebody we are probably going to make a play. And that’s a great confidence booster when you don’t have to be perfect every pitch.”
As good as the Falcons are on the mound and in the field, they might be even better at the plate, if the 11-0 blowout of Liberty is any indication. They scored six of their runs in the third inning – the first three coming off a home run by Zepeda and the rest the result of five singles. They added five more runs the next inning, thanks to a triple, two doubles and three singles.
“We’ve been working hard on hitting,” said Jonas. “We’ve been paying a lot of extra attention to it. Today it looked like it. A lot of times we do things and it doesn’t look like we coach anything. But today it looked like the kids were doing all we wanted them to do at the plate. That makes it a lot easier for the pitchers; it makes it a lot easier for the defense. And generally when you’re hitting, everybody feels pretty good.”
The Falcons were definitely feeling pretty good after the Liberty game. It seemed like they were picking up where they left off last season. “That team last year was a very special team,” said Jonas. “There was some outstanding talent there. This team, I would say, has to rely on the whole team coming together and everybody having an impact on the game. We can’t just rely on Hannah or Chrissy Stalf doing something for us. Everybody’s got to contribute. That’s not bad. Sometimes that’s a good thing when everybody knows they have to contribute. I am pleased with this group. They are a good hard-working group. We got a ways to go before we can talk about (equaling) last year’s team or the teams in the past. We’re real young. We get one win, we’re happy. Tomorrow’s a new day for us.”
Freedom's next home game is Thursday, April 1 against Pittsburg.