BALLSTON SPA — Before the 2016 high school softball season got started, Ballston Spa head coach Amanda Fifield told her team she expected to compete for Section II Class AA championships going forward.
That was wild to hear back then for her players.
Looking back, it’s wilder how it’s all worked out to plan.
“Everyone just thought that wasn’t really possible,” said Ballston Spa junior Megan McMahon, a three-year varsity player. “But she always had the confidence in us that we could do it.”
“We hadn’t had that kind of confidence in ourselves and in our teammates,” said Ballston Spa senior Sarah Pritchard, a four-year varsity player.
Since the 2016 season started, the Ballston Spa softball program has put together a remarkable run of success. Section II Class AA softball is filled with high-quality programs and no school has won back-to-back area championships in the last decade, but Ballston Spa has appeared in the area’s last three championship games and won two of them . . . while competing as the classification’s smallest Section II school.
In past years, that designation stymied Ballston Spa, which competes 9 a.m. Saturday in the state semifinals against Section VIII’s East Meadow at Moreau Recreational Park. That started to change, though, once Fifield became Ballston Spa’s head coach heading into the 2013 season, after coaching the school’s JV team for the three prior seasons. Ballston Spa athletic director Dave Sunkes said Fifield’s commitment to softball and growing a winning program at the school, regardless of the challenges, is what stood out the most when she was promoted to the varsity gig.
“First and foremost, when I first started in this position, that’s what I wanted in a varsity coach,” said Sunkes, who is in his sixth year as Ballston Spa’s athletic director. “I wanted people who couldn’t live without the sport. If anyone fits that mold, she does.”
When Fifield started at Ballston Spa, she looked at the program more as a blank slate than one with past blemishes to fix. Her main concern during her first few years leading the Scotties was to create a stable foundation from which consistent habits could form.
“That’s when a lot of good things can happen,” Fifield said.
Those first years didn’t create a winning team right away. Ashlyn Kersch, who was the senior pitcher on Ballston Spa’s 2016 team that won the program’s first sectional championship, remembers those first seasons with Fifield as the program’s head coach still saw the Scotties struggle to compete.
“But she was excited. She pushed us and she was into it,” said Kersch, who helped lead SUNY Geneseo to a SUNYAC championship this spring. “She was the energy of the team. Now, you can see everyone has that energy.”
There is loads of talent, too. In recent years, Ballston Spa seemingly has produced a new star — sometimes, stars — in each of its classes. This year’s team has so much natural talent that it has put together a 21-3 record despite playing the full campaign without sophomore Lauren Kersch, who pitched for the Scotties last season and hit in the middle of the team’s order before injuring her knee during the 2018 preseason.
Having so much talent come through the ranks in such a short amount of time helps, but Fifield has helped the program’s cause, too, with how she has handled her roster. Before expanding for the postseason, Ballston Spa carried 13 players for the 2018 season. That group consisted of four seniors, three juniors, five sophomores and a freshman. Being willing to allow talented players the chance to play at the varsity level as freshmen and sophomores, Fifield said, has helped bolster Ballston Spa’s success.
“The thing that’s changed in the last few years for me is not being afraid to take eighth-graders and ninth-graders on the varsity,” Fifield said. “That way, you build four-year, five-year starters. When you have those kinds of players, they have more confidence.”
This year’s Ballston Spa team has a high level of confidence, one it showed in its comeback victory against Section III’s Cicero-North Syracuse in the state quarterfinals. With a win Saturday against East Meadow, Ballston Spa would earn the chance to play for a state championship later that day — and that has been the team’s goal all season.
“We want that feeling of having earned everything,” Lauren Kersch said.
A couple short years ago, that seemed like an impossible task.
“This year,” McMahon said, “we knew we could do that.”