WPCNR Press Box, by John “Baseball” Bailey, 3/13/02, 10:30 PM EST: There’s a quiet dynasty in town that’s had a better record than the New York Yankees the last six years, and never received a parade, championship signs, or a big recognition ceremony.
When you spell “softball,” you spell it W-H-I-T-E P-L-A-I- N-S.
THE WHITE PLAINS TIGERS CHAMPIONSHIP SOFTBALL TEAM. Tryouts over, Ted O’Donnell’s club heads to Virginia next week. They are getting ready to defend their League 1A Championship. The veteran team has won two championships in a row and five of the last six “A” titles. The champions (24-4 last year), will be together for their final title run as a team this spring in a tougher league. Coach O’Donnell is at far right. Coach John Roselli at far left.
Photo Courtesy, Ted O’Donnell White Plains Tigers
WPCNR interviewed Tiger mentor, Ted O’Donnell, “O’D” as his players call him, at his WPHS office to get his perspective on the “Champions nobody knows.”
O’Donnell is entering his seventh year as varsity softball coach, and he cannot say enough about his players’ dedication to getting better in their sport. His bushy steely gray reddish hair, soft-spoken voice, and perpetually sunburned complexion just says brands him a student of the game. Softball is his sport.
O’Donnell looks like Earl Weaver, the Baltimore Oriole Manager of the 1970s. And he’s been just as successful. O’Donnell is the former Junior Varsity coach who built the “feeder” system that created the “quiet” dynasty. It is his system that equipped White Plains girls to play fastpitch softball better, more consistently than any other program in the county.
The Quiet Coach Talks.
He doesn’t like to talk about himself, giving the credit to his players and their work ethic. O’Donnell, however pioneered encouraging girls with the talent to play at higher levels, and play summer travel ball. He brought in a new windmill pitching style, the California Drag. This style enabled the Tiger pitchers to dominate the county the last five years.
He gave such a pride and love of playing ball to his players that they play it all year round, just to get better. They love playing ball so much that all practice six days a week, play all summer, and deep into fall. They do drill after drill, many of which O’Donnell designed. They hone their trigger- step-explode hitting styles. They work at it.
The Quiet Players Do the Winning.
The White Plains Tigers show you how it’s done on the field, at the plate, and how to conduct yourself on the field. More than any other White Plains team, (all known for their good sportsmanship), the softball team sets the standard for conduct during a ball game. Nothing ruffles them.
Losses are quietly suffered, and any loss encourages them to just work harder. In fact, when the Tigers lose, they are at their best. They don’t take it personally. They don’t throw gloves. They don’t make excuses. They take responsibility.
Wanting to get better.
O’Donnell attributes the start of the championship run to when he was the Junior Varsity coach for six years prior to taking the Varsity job in 1995. He said he always felt White Plains had the talent to be a competitive team. In his time at the JV helm, he started a summer softball travel team and acquired players willing to “devote a lot of extra time developing their game…year-round.”
He and John Roselli won three consecutive titles after O’Donnell took the Varsity job. Roselli’s daughter, Kristin, was their dominant pitcher as a ninth grader.
All Softball. All the Time.
“Year-round” is the key to O’Donnell’s success. His players think and play and work at softball all year. He feels that to field a really good varsity program, you have to select the best athletes for the team, regardless of grade in school.
If they can play up to the varsity level, he brings them up. The result is there is no varsity learning curve. He gets three good varsity years out of them. Has a brief rebuilding year, where his players still win and is ready to win it all again. The only year they did not win the title was 1999. They lost to Ursuline 1-0, and 3-2 to lose the title by one game. That was an “off year.”
A veteran team poised for their final run.
This year the “Tiger Ten,” features seven seniors, one junior and three sophomores. He feels he will select two players from the Junior Varsity to bring up to complete the team, but has not decided on them yet. He prefers the players to play as much as possible.
This year the Tiger duo of crafty lefty Senior Jesse Orfe and sophomore Tara Pollard will split the wind milling. Orfe is coming off a 12-2 year in ’01, with a 0.77 Earned Run Average. Orfe’s poise, pitch selection and cool demeanor recall Whitey Ford, if Whitey Ford could windmill. Pollard, the straw-haired sophomore right-hander was also 12-2 with a 1.09 ERA. Last year Orfe and Pollard pitched 98 and 96 innings respectively. They averaged one walk a game.
This year the duo may be better. O’Donnell worked both pitchers with Olympic pitcher Lorie Harrigan, over the summer. (Hannigan pitched a no-hitter against Canada in the 2000 Olympics.) Harrigan, who uses the Drag, has refined the Drag to where she strides about three quarters across the power line to the plate to give her more speed. O’Donnell likes this theory.
He has fine-tuned Orfe’s and Pollard’s motions to give them a little more speed. Instead of striding straight to the plate in their California Drag motion, the coach, at Hannigan’s suggestion is having his “Koufax-Drysdale Team” “stride into the power line” with their stride leg about “three-quarters to bring more of their hips into the pitch.”
Behind the plate is senior Ciara DiFrancesco, the All-Section Catcher, and Hudson River Bandit, who will be backed up by Sophomore Jessica Issaacs. Jessica was the starting third sacker in 2001. This year when DiFrancesco is catching, Issaacs will play third, and when Issaacs is catching, Ciara will be on the hot corner.
Around the Horn
Out at shortstop will be senior, Cristin Pasqua, the All-County First Team Second Baseperson in 2001. O’Donnell describes her as having “excellent lateral movement, a strong accurate arm, with speed” to get to tough chances.
Moving to second base when she is not pitching is Tara Pollard, who can hit as well as pitch. When Pollard is pitching, impressive sophomore Kelly O’Neill will be at second base.
At first base is the statuesque (5’ 10”) and fearless Kathryn Fitzmaurice, a senior who stands in to choke off the bunt almost on top of the plate. She reacts incredibly fast getting back to take a throw or cut off a grounder in the first base hole with a great stretch. She is in her third year on the varsity.
Senior Picket Duty
The Tiger outfield is a trio of seniors.
Out in Centerfield, this is our last year to watch the graceful, far-ranging Leslie Busch cover “O’Donnell’s Bluff.” Leslie is a four-year starter, who made All-County First Team in 2001.
In a testimony to just how good she covers gaps, goes and gets’em, and shoestrings ‘em, Leslie has won a softball scholarship at SUNY Albany, a Division I school, next year. O’Donnell is very impressed with Leslie’s achievement saying Division I scholarships are very tough to get.
Flanking her in left field is senior Cyndi Carnaghi, the Hudson River Bandit, and another four year starter for Ted. He describes Cyndi as having a good arm and a good glove.
Cyndi, he says, played on an elite fall softball team, the Jersey Girls playing clubs in Delaware, California, Texas and Florida.
Out in right field is senior Kara Younkin in her second year on the varsity. A member of O’Donnell’s Rockland Stix summer team, he describers her as very committed.
A freshman making the team this year is the Little League standout, Candace Abbott, and Illinois native, who performed extraordinarily in the Little League Senior Softball Division last year.
Virginia swing coming up.
The team will be traveling to Virginia the weekend of March 23, to start a spring training swing playing top teams in the South to get ready for their opener April 5 at Ossining.
O’Donnell’s White Plains Fastpitch organization funds the trip through his clinics and fundraisers to charter a bus to take the team on down. The coach describes the Virginia Swing as a great bonding experience, good training conditions, and stimulating competition.
“The weather there is a little warmer. We get to play teams we would never see normally. Virginia’s got very very tough softball teams,” Ted said. “I set the games up against the top teams they have to offer. Last year we didn’t score a run in any of the scrimmages. But we were competitive. But that’s how good the pitching was. They’re a few weeks ahead of us, but we ended up the number 2 Class A ranked team last year and lost 2-0, and really played well.”
A Tougher League Awaits
This year the league has been trimmed to include the usual suspects: New Rochelle, Ursuline, Mamaroneck, Scarsdale, and stranger in town, Yorktown has joined the league.
Dropping out of the league are the weaker clubs: Mount Vernon, Gorton, Roosevelt and Lincoln. It will mean playing five competitive teams twice instead of the Yonkers schools which were usually breathers in the schedule. It will be tougher to win it all. But the Tigers love good competition.
O’Donnell has also scheduled Pascack Valley, the Horace Greeley Tournament, North Rockland, Arlington, and wraps up the season with the Morabito Tournament which he describes as the top high school tournament in New York State, with Horseheads, Cornwall or John Jay as scheduled opponents.
O’D'S OTHER CLUB, THE ROCKLAND STIX: Many players from his Tiger roster, played in the AAU Nationals in the summer of 2001, splitting 8 games against what O’Donnell described as “all-star teams” from around the country. They enjoy playing the best. The season of 2002 is the last year White Plains will be able to see this great team together. Enjoy them. They will be talked about for years to come in terms of “Remember when?”
“Good Job”: the Praise that Pays.
Photo Courtesy, Ted O’Donnell, White Plains Tigers
Coach O’Donnell closed our talk expressing his admiration and respect for the dedication and commitment to the game that his players have shown him over the years.
He said they were totally unselfish, outstanding individuals, dedicated, who are dedicated to filling whatever role is asked of them. They just win, baby.
The quietest bench in softball.
A factor in the Tigers’ poise is the way O’Donnell manages them: He never yells at them for a mistake.
O’Donnell once told me that raising your voice at a player makes them unwilling to risk getting yelled at again. He feels yelling at the girls makes them tentative, afraid to make the same effort, or a greater effort for the next chance or at bat, or next pitch, in fear of failure.
Yelling just insults them, he feels. Instead, he always attempts to say what they did well first, before making a suggestion on how they could execute better next shot.
The “Good Job” Coach.
O’Donnell’s trademark chatter during the game is “Good job. Good job. Good effort. Good eye.” with a lot of “get-em next time’s.” He rarely ever loses his control during a game.
His total emotional balance is reflected in his players’ demeanor. Players do not question his moves. They do not pout when taken out or substituted.
There have been a lot of “Good Job’s” the last six years.
Make your plans to see the best.
The Home Opener at O’Donnell’s Bluff at the High School is April 8 against Scarsdale at 4:15 PM. You all come on out.
The White Plains Tigers Varsity Softball Schedule
March 23-26: Virginia Swing
Friday, April 5: At Ossining, 4:15
Saturday, April 6: at Minisink Scrimmages
Monday, April 8: SCARSDALE, 4:15
Monday, April 15: ROOSEVELT, 4:15
Thursday, April 18: NEW ROCHELLE, 4:15
Friday, April 19: MOUNT VERNON, 4:15
Monday, April 22: CLARKSTOWN NORTH, 4:15
Thursday, April 25: at Ursuline, 4:15
Saturday, April 27: The Horace Greeley Tournament Doubleheader at Horace Greeley
Sunday, April 28: Horace Greeley Tournament Doubleheader at Horace Greeley
Monday, April 29: MAMARONECK, 4:15
Wednesday, May 1: at Yorktown, 4:15
Friday, May 3: at Scarsdale, 4:15
Saturday, May 4: CLARKSTOWN SOUTH, 11:00 AM
Monday, May 6: at New Rochelle, 4:15
Thursday, May 9: URSULINE, 4:15
Saturday, May 11: NORTH ROCKLAND, 11:00 AM
Monday, May 13: at Mamaroneck, 4:15
Wednesday, May 15: YORKTOWN, 4:15
Saturday, May 18: Morabito Tournament, at Port Chester playing Mechanicsville at 9 AM, and Cicero North or Brewster, time TBA
Sunday, May 19: Morabito Tournament, 2 games, times TBA
Friday, May 24: Sectionals Opening Round
Tuesday, May 28: Quarter-Finals
Thursday, May 30: Semi-Finals
Saturday, June 1: Finals
2002 White Plains High SchoolVarsity Softball Team Roster
3 – Jesse Orfe** 12th
11 – Candace Abbott 9th
12 – Cristin Pasqua** 12th
13 – Leslie Busch** 12th
15 – Cyndi Carnaghi 12th
19 – Ciara DiFrancesco 12th
21 – Tara Pollard 10th
26 – Kara Younkin 12th
31 – Kathryn Fitzmaurice 12th
34 – Jessica Isaacs 11th
36 – Kelly O’Neil 10th
Head Coach: Ted O’Donnell
Assistant Coach: John Roselli
** Denotes Co-Captain
Photo by WPCNR