Small-school softball team plays big in Michigan

Updated: June 22, 2007, 1:59 PM ET
By Wayne Drehs | ESPN.com

When she tries to process what her Cabrini High School softball team accomplished with its Michigan Division 4 state championship this past weekend, pitcher Katie Osburn says about what you'd expect for a high school junior.

"Pretty sweet, huh? And next year we get to try and do it again."

Good Luck. The Monarchs just completed one of the most dominating seasons in high school softball history. Sure, it was Division 4, the smallest in Michigan, but the statistics were gaudy enough that jaws would have dropped if it were T-Ball.

Cabrini followed last year's 39-0 state championship run by going 35-0 this season, outscoring opponents 366-1, including 48-0 in the state playoffs. Osburn started every game and gave up only one run this season. She threw 34 complete-game shutouts and 12 no hitters and struck out 320 hitters in 163.1 innings. Her ERA was .04.

Cabrini Team
Sue BeckThe Cabrini High School softball team went 35-0 this season. Catcher Amanda Chidester is at right in the top row, wearing catchers gear; pitcher Katie Osburn is the second player from the left in the top row, leaning forward.
She set the national record for consecutive shutouts (27), and the team set the record for fewest runs allowed in a season (1).

Ask the pitcher about that lone run and she protests.

"That number should be zero," she said this week in a telephone interview. "We have the proof on video. We didn't give up that run. The umpire missed the call."

According to Osburn, with a runner on first base and one out in the district final against Inter-City Baptist High School, she took a comebacker and fired it to second, but the umpire said the Monarchs shortstop, Rachel Copple, missed the base and called the runner safe. Osburn struck out the next batter, "which should have been the third out," she insists. Instead, the next batter singled up the middle and drove home the only run all season.

"We all knew it right away," she said. "And when that happened, it felt like we lost. Coach was like, 'What's wrong with you guys? It's a run. Forget about it. You're acting like you lost.' But it became a goal not to give up a run."

Whether the run should have crossed the plate, the season remains one to remember. It also gives Osburn and her teammates something else to aim for next season when they go for the national record of 112 consecutive victories.

The school will move up to Division 3 next season, and two-thirds of the starting lineup returns, including the battery of Osburn and catcher Amanda Chidester. Chidester, who already has committed to Michigan, has her own place in the state record books after hitting .730 for the season, the second-highest mark ever. She also belted 16 home runs to go along with 90 RBI.

Yet one of her biggest challenges, she said, was trying to catch Osburn's screwball.

"My glove is older, I got it my freshman year and if I don't catch that screwball in the web it just kills," she said. "There's this one part of my hand it constantly seemed to hit and it just hurt so bad. It left a big black bruise."

Unlike high school baseball, softball rules don't limit the number of innings a pitcher can throw, allowing Osburn to pitch as frequently as coach Debbie Norman called on her. In one tournament, Osburn pitched four games in the same day, winning them all. She says that because the windmill motion for pitching a softball is more natural to the body, it doesn't hurt.

"That day I pitched four games I was tired," she said. "But my arm didn't hurt at all."

The junior transferred to Cabrini, a Catholic school of about 300 students in Allen Park, after her freshman year at 3,000-student Plymouth-Canton High School, where she said she didn't fit in. An avid Detroit Tigers fan, she describes her style as more Kenny Rogers than Justin Verlander. She already has verbally committed to play college softball at Miami of Ohio.

"I have to paint the corners," she says. "I'm not a 6-footer like the girls you see at the College World Series. I don't have that heat."

What the 5-foot-5 Osburn does have are five pitches, though: a drop, rise, curve, screwball and changeup. The curve, a pitch she threw six consecutive times to retire the last two hitters in a state semifinal, is her favorite.

"I love watching batters think they're going to get it and then it curves away from their bats and they have no chance," she says. "They're not going to hit it."

In the remote case they did connect, Osburn knew her teammates were ready. This season, she says, was more about what they accomplished as a team, not as individuals.

"I always knew 100 percent that my teammates were there," she said. "Our goal this year wasn't to set any records, it was to make it back to Battle Creek and defend our title. And we did that."

Next year might be tougher in a higher division. And Osburn, less than a week after the state championship game, already was working with her pitching coach, focusing on the summer season and her goals for next year.

"I don't like giving up hits, nevertheless runs," she said. "So next year, I don't want to allow one run to cross the plate. That's the goal."

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn3.com.