Pair of aces: Schiebe, Procyk pitch Masuk to unbeaten season

Sam Schiebe fires a pitch during a Masuk High softball game this season. — Andy Hutchison photo

Sam Schiebe fires a pitch during a Masuk High softball game this season. — Andy Hutchison photo

 

Pitching is paramount for success in softball, and with two standout hurlers in the circle, the Masuk High softball team had the unusual advantage of having two arms to lean on for its run to South-West Conference and state Class L championships this spring.

Junior Sam Schiebe and sophomore Maddie Procyk not only shared duties but also excelled for the Panthers, who ended the season with a 27-0 record and ranked first in the state.

Although a big advantage for a variety of reasons, the two-pitcher arrangement could have also left Masuk head coach Leigh Barone in a tough decision-making spot: Most softball teams rely on one ace throughout the season.

Barone, however, said that there was really no downside to the scenario.

“It has not been a challenge for me to juggle the two pitchers and the main reason for that is both of them are not just great pitchers, but they are all-around good softball players,” she said. “Maddie plays third [base] when she is not pitching, and when Sam is not pitching she plays first or third.”

“So many things about pitching excite me,” said Procyk. “The sound the ball makes in the catcher’s glove when you’re throwing hard; the swing and miss of a batter after throwing a changeup; the strikeout after a full count; and the little huddle and high-fives I get after a strikeout are just a few of the reasons I love to pitch.”

“My favorite thing about pitching is being in every play,” said Schiebe. “I love being able to challenge hitters.”

Although the underhand softball pitching motion is considered to be less taxing on the arm than the overhand baseball pitching motion, softball pitchers can get over-worked, especially when makeup games (from rainouts) jam the already truncated spring schedule.

“The biggest benefit this year was utilizing both when we had a lot of games in a short period of time,” said Barone. “There was one week where we had games from Monday to Friday and Sam and Maddie switched each day.

“Another huge benefit is giving hitters a different look. If they start catching up to one of the pitchers after seeing them a few times then you can make that change.”

An example came during one of Masuk’s rare hard-fought victories, a 6-4 win over Brookfield on May 14. Barone used both Schiebe and Procyk to help her team get the win and stay unbeaten.

Friendly competition

There is a bond between the two pitchers, and they encourage each other.

“Both Sam and Maddie love to pitch and that right there is their motivation,” said Barone.”Sam and Maddie have a very friendly competition. They pitched together at every practice, enjoy hitting live against each other, and support each other on the mound.”

“It definitely helps knowing Sam and I can rely on each other,” said Procyk. “We can’t throw perfectly every day and when we’re having an off day we know we have each other to get the job done. It also motivates us to play better because we know we have to pick each other up when our pitches aren’t working too well.”

Both pitchers enjoy pushing each other and also getting tested by Masuk’s strong bats, which produced double-digit runs 15 times this spring.

“When we’re playing a game at practice and we’re on opposite teams it pushes us to work harder considering we’re competing against some great hitters on our team,” said Procyk.

“Having two pitchers can definitely be a benefit, knowing they are there to back you up if you are not on your game,” Schiebe said. “If we know batters [from opposing teams] personally, we help each other on what we know about them.”

Sophomore Maddie Procyk teamed with junior Sam Schiebe to give Masuk two pitching aces. — Andy Hutchison photo

Sophomore Maddie Procyk teamed with junior Sam Schiebe to give Masuk two pitching aces. — Andy Hutchison photo

Schiebe pitched approximately 100 innings this year and Procyk about 65 innings.

“I wanted to make sure each pitcher was getting innings, so there were games when one would start and the other would come in around inning four,” said Barone. “If a team started stringing together hits and scoring runs then I knew the option of making the pitching change was always there to give the opponents a different look.”

Schiebe racked up 147 strikeouts in 20 games pitched, and Procyk totaled 109 in 15 games.

Having two standout pitchers who strike out a lot of hitters takes pressure of the defense and keeps opposing offenses from threatening.

Masuk held opponents scoreless 21 times this year, including in the SWC and state championship games.

“When a team does not put the ball in play as much against a strong pitcher, it is hard to make things happen offensively,” said Barone. “Against teams that have a strong offense, if they do start making things happen then a pitching change can be made and they again have to make adjustments as hitters.”

Both pitchers came into high school at a high level, each with several years of experience. Schiebe has played softball for a dozen years, pitching for most of them. Procyk has played softball for six or seven years, and started pitching in her second year of organized softball.

Mixing, matching … and catching

One key to pitching success is to throw different pitches and know how to to mix and match those offerings to keep hitters off balance.

“Sam and Maddie both throw a variety of different pitches and each have their go-to pitch,” said Barone. “They are both very good at getting to know batters and what sequence of pitches to throw them based on previous at-bats.”

“Sam and I both have about five or six pitches, which benefits us a lot depending on the teams we’re facing,” said Procyk. “We both have pretty good movement up and down as well as side to side and work in off-speed pitches, which are extremely important to throw batters off and make them chase pitches that they can’t hit well. Both Sam and I are pretty confident in all of our pitches and mix them in no matter the count to keep batters guessing.”

“I rely on some pitches more than others depending on what’s working that day for certain batters,” added Schiebe.

Of course not to be overlooked is the other half of the battery, catcher Erica Pullen, who played a key role in the success of Schiebe and Procyk. This past season was Pullen’s last with the Panthers since she is graduating.

“Erica has been my catcher for 10 years and I think we work really well together,” said Schiebe. “She has seen my pitching as it improved over the years and knows when and what to call and who to call it for. I will definitely miss our strong bond.”

“I have so many good things to say about Erica Pullen,” added Procyk. “Erica is so intense and in it to win it when she steps on the field. Even though I’ve only gotten to play with her for two seasons, I’ve gotten to know her so well and she has helped me so much throughout the season.

“She is a huge reason a lot of our games turned out the way they did. She is so smart behind the plate and knows what to throw and when to throw it. She knows how to get in batter’s heads and when she knows a pitch isn’t working it’s like she reads my mind and knows what to throw as an alternative pitch. She’s such a great player with so much talent and it’s safe to say we will all miss her next year.”

Along with Pullen, Masuk will also lose graduate several other key players, including Alexa Bacoulis, Allie Lichvar and Katie Welch.

But with Schiebe and Procyk and several other standouts returning, the Panthers should be tough to beat in 2019.

“I am really looking forward to having both pitchers come back,” said Barone. “These are two girls that are very athletic and can play any position and get the job done at the plate as well.

“I cannot wait to see what the future holds for these two players; Sam returning as a senior next year and Maddie as a junior. It has been a great experience to watch their growth and I only expect them to keep getting better with the work-ethic and passion that they both have.”

Procyk is looking forward to Masuk continuing its winning ways next spring.

“Although we have some shoes to fill on the infield, our team is still very strong offensively and defensively and I can only imagine we will continue our strength and momentum from this past season into next season,” she said.

“I am extremely excited for next season,” added Schiebe. “It’s a big goal to do what we did this year again, but I believe we can succeed if we all back each other up and play as a team. We will be working as hard as we can all season long and strive for our best.”

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