The sectional championship won last week by the Franklin Community High School softball team was built on a number of relationships.
Perhaps the most evident is the healthy rapport between head coach Joe Paszek and his players. At the end of practice the night following Thursday’s 1-0 sectional final win against New Palestine, Paszek was gathering equipment and instructing his players to leave the diamond.
“Come on, Joe,” multiple players called out. “Let’s hit some more. Let us each hit a basket (of softballs). How about half a basket?”
Paszek held his ground and good-naturedly ordered his players to hit the road. But the ease of communication and light mood around this team can only be a good thing for its performance.
Paszek is full of admiration for the group, which hosts Bloomington South at 7 p.m. today in the regional championship, as a whole.
“This team is unlike any I’ve coached previously in how hard it really works,” he said. “What you just saw (at the end of practice) is not unusual for them. One game we lost here at home, and the JV game was after ours so I told the girls ‘If you want to stay after the game and swing some, we’ll stay after and hit.’ Well, they ended up hitting for two hours that day after playing a game. They always want to improve, which makes them easy to coach.
“(Assistant coach) Mark Lloyd and I can throw batting practice until our arms are sore. They want to achieve and are kind of blue collar. They may not all be spectacular athletes, but they really work hard at it. That’s what’s different about this group of kids.”
The team members’ relationships one to another are also key. Senior first baseman Grace Paszek said the feeling the team wasn’t getting the respect it deserved as it faced off against a number of ranked teams in the sectional added some fuel to the Grizzly Cubs’ fire.
“A lot of people didn’t have confidence we could win. They thought that Franklin softball wasn’t very good,” she said. “I wanted to show them that we are good and we have a lot of talent on this team.
“The girls care about each other and we wanted to win to show them Franklin softball is better than they thought. Doing it for each other was a big motivator for us.”
Sophomore shortstop Whitney Shapp echoed Paszek’s comments, adding that the players’ relationship with the coach is an important factor, as well.
“Everyone thought we couldn’t do it, and we just wanted to prove them wrong,” she said. “We believed in ourselves, in each other, and just went out there and did our job. We didn’t have big hits or anything, but we were able to get on base and move the runners at the right time.
“Our coach says never get too high or too low. We believed him when he said we just need to keep working on our fundamentals and doing all the little things that we do best.”
Other than the relationship Joe Paszek has with daughters Grace and Olivia, perhaps the longest-standing relationship impacting the team is that between Olivia, a standout pitcher, and Franklin resident Shannon Hicks.
You won’t find that name in a box score, but if you go back to the 1999 sectional final game, the last time Franklin won a sectional title before last week, you will find the name Shannon Carson. She pitched every inning of that sectional, including the decisive triumph over Center Grove. She went on to pitch at NCAA Division I UNC-Charlotte softball before returning to Franklin and getting married.
Now Shannon Hicks, she co-owns a pair of consignment stores in the area with her mother, while raising two boys.
Hicks has stayed involved in softball as a pitching coach. She began working with Olivia and Grace Paszek when they were just 9 (Grace Paszek stopped pitching after suffering a serious arm injury).
“I meet with her once a week and we have about an hour and a half pitching lesson, either at a diamond or at a barn at our house,” Olivia Paszek said. “I pitch with my dad for an hour too, but she helps me with my mechanics or my timing. She always helps me if I ever need pitching advice. She’s always there to talk to.”
Joe Paszek, who knew Hicks because his brother-in-law, Andy Hensley, coached the 1999 Franklin team, said she has been vital to Olivia’s success.
“I’m not a pitching coach for female fast-pitch. It’s very unique and I’m not qualified to teach that,” he said. “Every good pitcher out there has a pitching coach. Olivia is probably her only full-time student, because she has two young boys and that business. We used to have to find places to pitch, and we ended up building a barn at the house so we wouldn’t have to travel for a pitcher’s mound or a batting cage. She comes to the house regularly.
“She’s taught her everything, all her pitches. It wasn’t me. Trust me.”
Hicks admitted to being emotional to being emotional at hearing news of the Franklin sectional win. She said would like to attend games, but her schedule, along with a concern that she could unsettle her pupil, has kept her away from the diamond so far this year.
“I feel like I might make her nervous,” Hicks said. “When my coach used to come watch me I always thought I had to impress her, so it can put more pressure on the player.
“That’s another reason I don’t go.”
Along with the bond she’s formed with the Paszeks over the years, Hicks said her happiness on the news of Franklin’s win also stemmed from her good memories from that spring day in 1999 when the Grizzly Cubs won.
“I remember I jumped five feet in the air when we won,” she said. “I also remember, I don’t think it was the last out but maybe the last inning, somebody hit a long fly ball that scared the living crap out of me. I just stood there praying ‘Oh no, don’t go over. Don’t go over. Then one of my outfielders, Jenny Cramer, ran along the fence and reached up and grabbed the ball. I just remember my glove shaking. I was helpless at that point. Then I struck out the last batter.
“Just like this year’s team, no one ever thought we would win.”
Hicks says she plans to be at Tuesday night’s regional game. Grace Paszek said the team is planning to make a strong showing as well.
“We’ll be ready,” she said. “We’re very excited to have won sectionals but we believe we can keep it going.”