By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T

First-pitch strikes.

Every coach preaches the importance of getting ahead of hitters, but too few have the ability to consistently master the art.

In the case of St. Hubert junior Melissa Robinson, she not only throws first-pitch strikes, she seems to throw strikes on every single offering.

“I always trust our defense,” said Robinson. “We have great fielders. Whenever the ball gets hit, I always assume we’ll make the play.”

In St. Hubert’s 2-0 Catholic League championship victory over Archbishop Wood May 22 at Arcadia University, Robinson didn’t do anything differently than she has for the entire year. The Bambies’ opponent expected to receive strikes from their opponent hurler, and that they did.

But like just about every team Robinson has faced, the Vikings could not mount any offense against a Hubert’s team that only lost one Catholic League game this spring while successfully defending the championship earned last year, the first in school history.

The Bambies went on to defeat Central High 14-0 for the district title May 28, and June 1 they stunned Pennsbury 2-0 to advance to the state quarterfinals. Their next game is scheduled for today.

“She is not the fastest pitcher in the Catholic League,” said Hubert’s coach Dave Schafer. “We do a lot of scouting and take notes on players who we will probably face again. Melissa can throw the ball exactly where we want it. She hardly ever walks anybody. I don’t remember the last time she did.”

In Hubert’s 23 games, 20 have been wins. During their current 11-game winning streak, the Bambies have outscored the opposition by an unfathomable 70-2. For the entire season, Robinson has issued a minuscule 18 free passes while striking out 171. While the latter statistic is excellent, its average of less than eight whiffs a game pales in comparison to some other pitchers in the area.

And that brings everything back to the stingy St. Hubert defense and opportunistic hitting, which has an amazing ability to produce runs thanks to “small ball” – bunts, stolen bases, advancing runners, etc. That is how softball is played; relying on big bats to carry you to victory can only go so far.

“We work very hard on our defense every practice,” said sophomore shortstop Brittany Meehan, who Schafer said was overlooked by this year’s All-Catholic committee. “When you have a pitcher like Melissa, you know she is going to either strike someone out or make them hit it. So we’re always prepared to make a play.”

Schafer, who as a head coach at Bishop Conwell (now Conwell-Egan) won 12 Catholic League titles, doesn’t mention his past success to his players.

“That was a different time,” he said. “I don’t even mention it. We’re totally committed to this program.”

Asked if he has any advice for other coaches who would be thrilled with even a fraction of the 14 overall titles on his resume, Schafer offered something he calls the “Oreo theory.”

“When you have to instruct, start and end by being positive and put the negative somewhere in the middle,” he said. “It’s not about me or the coaches. The players here are totally dedicated to what we’re doing here. I told them we’d have a bull’s eye on our back because we were the defending champion. Our girls responded with confidence, but not cockiness.”