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HS notes: Softball infielders donning masks for protection

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Sandra Lyndaker can’t get the image out of her head.

The Lowville assistant softball coach sat at a travel tournament several years ago and watched a third-base player take a line drive off her forehead that produced “a sickening thud.”

A mother of three pitchers, Lyndaker is leading the charge at Lowville for pitchers and corner infielders to use the protective masks that are being seen more frequently than ever before on area softball fields.

Players from South Jefferson, Lyme and LaFargeville are also sporting the protective gear, according to the 14 Frontier League coaches who responded to a Times survey.

The Amateur Softball Association of America, which sets regulations that are adopted by most high school and college leagues across the country, currently has no rule in place regarding the use of the masks, leaving players with the option.

The New York State Softball Officials Organization, which directly oversees high school softball in the state, also has no regulation in place.

Lyndaker would like to see that change.

“I would love to see a rule enacted, so that there isn’t a choice,” she said.

“If there’s a way to avoid a serious head injury without affecting the game or taking anything away from the game, then I’m all for that,” she added.

None of the other responding coaches directly said they want a mandate in place, but all said they would not discourage a player from wearing one. Most said the option should lie with the players and their families.

“If a girl wants to wear a mask either playing the field or at the plate, then let her. Just the opposite, if a girl doesn’t want to wear a mask on the field or at the plate, then allow her that choice,” Immaculate Heart coach Paul Alteri said.

Coaches said some players find the masks uncomfortable and limit their vision. Others said players gain confidence with the mask on and feel they can focus solely on fielding the ball properly, rather than worry about getting hurt.

Several coaches, besides Lyndaker, reported incidents in which a player was struck with a batted ball and opted for the extra protection as a result. This has happened at both Watertown and LaFargeville practices within the last two seasons.

Belleville Henderson coach Colleen Bellinger was struck in the face with a batted ball during a drill at practice three years ago. She broke her nose and suffered damage around her eye, and has worn the mask at practice ever since.

And though there haven’t been an overwhelming amount of reported incidents yet, most coaches believe that technological advancements, such as composite bats, could mean it’s just a matter of time.

“I think the major factor in wearing one is that the speed of the ball is coming off the bat so much faster now than it did 10 years ago,” LaFargeville coach Danielle Shimel said. “I think when you take into account how hard some girls are swinging the bat, they are making extremely good contact on the ball, and it is coming off the bat quite quickly.”

The ASA has testing procedures in place and will not certify any bat that can produce a batted ball speed exceeding 98 mph.

Another reason that several coaches offered is that the masks are “a cheap insurance,” for various families’ investments in dental work, or in some cases, facial reconstruction surgeries.

Because of the frequency of bunting in the sport, the corner infielders are generally lined up closest to the plate, which is why you see the masks used at those positions more than others.

“Some teams will fake the bunt and pull back and swing, putting that player 25 or 30 feet away from the hitter sometimes and not always able to defend themselves from a hard-hit ball,” Copenhagen coach John Cain said.

Pitchers opt to wear the mask for the same reason.

“With the mound at only 43 feet and the pitcher ending up about 37 or 36 feet from the batter after the delivery of the pitch, reaction time is even less for a pitcher,” General Brown coach Darrin Pitkin said.

IHC INAUGURAL HALL CLASS

Immaculate Heart Central will honor its inaugural Athletic Hall of Fame Class on May 29 with a dinner at Savory Downtown in Watertown.

The class features four individuals, along with the 1971-72 boys basketball team, which was the school’s first Section 3 champion in any sport.

Mike Delaney (Class of 1968) will be inducted for his various contributions. Delaney has been coaching baseball and boys basketball since 1972, and has been the athletic director since 1983. As a player in football, basketball and baseball, Delaney won the school’s “Boots Gaffney Award,” as the outstanding male athlete.

Also set for induction are Peter Gaffney (1954) and Mark Puccia (1973), who were each league all-stars in basketball, baseball and football. Puccia was also a recipient of the “William Graf Award.”

Erik Koproski (1991) was a league all-star in lacrosse and a Times All-North selection in football.

LIONS TO SIGN LETTERS OF INTENT

General Brown seniors Michael Roukous and Jacob Humerickhouse will each sign his letter of intent to attend Wingate University in North Carolina to play Division II lacrosse.

Both Roukous and Humerickhouse will make it official at a brief ceremony today in the high school auditorium.

Roukous has 26 goals and 35 assists for 61 assists this season, while Humerickhouse has started on defense.

Times sportswriter Josh St.Croix covers softball for the Times, he can be reached at jstcroix@wdt.net

Times sportswriter Chris Fitz Gerald contributed to this report.

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