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High school softball: Cotter sophomore Ellie Macal’s work to shorten swing paying off in a big way

May 15, 2019

The most important factor in hitting a softball hard is squaring it up. If you can hit the middle of the ball with the best part of the bat — the sweet spot — it’s going to fly. Nothing else matters if you can’t square up the ball. You can swing as hard as you want, but if you don’t make good contact, the ball’s not going anywhere.

Cotter sophomore first baseman Ellie Macal is a perfect example.

Over the course of the last year, she has shortened her swing, stopped trying to kill the ball, and has seen her production skyrocket. By putting in the work to alter her swing, she has improved from batting for a .244 average with five RBIs and two doubles as a freshman to batting .520 with six doubles and three home runs as a sophomore as of Friday’s game at Lewiston-Altura.

“It’s hard for a kid to understand that they don’t have to swing as hard,” Cotter coach Pat Bowlin said. “They can actually cut down their swing and be more effective. It’s counterintuitive. You think you’ve got to swing hard to hit the ball far, but the truth of the matter is you’ve still got to have good bat speed, but you’ve got to get that barrel to the ball.”

As a freshman, Macal was trying to hit the ball too hard and couldn’t get the barrel to the ball. So the coach identified that she needed to shorten it up and she listened. She internalized what her coach told her, and worked hard to make the change.

After years of taking one approach at the plate, she had to teach herself to swing a new way — replacing a lifetime of muscle memory. If she didn’t put enough effort into the change, when she got really challenged, she would have reverted back to her old habits and her old swing. But she did what it took to make the change stick.

“I did a lot, a lot of high tee,” Macal said. “The slow swing came from me going down, so keeping myself up allowed me to shorten it up. It’s just a lot of reps. I did a lot of high tee — a lot. My dad bought a tee and a net and we just cranked them out.”

Now, even with a shorter swing and with her swinging less hard, the ball rockets off her bat. In the first inning of Friday’s win over L-A, she got ahold of a ball and hit a screaming line drive off the wall in left-center field. And she made it look effortless. That’s just her new normal.

On April 26 in three games at the Mankato East Tournament against Farmington, St. Peter, and Mankato East, Macal went 9-for-10 with six singles, two doubles, and a home run that won the game against Farmington. Farmington is a Class AAAA team and Mankato East is ranked in Class AAA, while Cotter is in Class AA.

“I’ve been in tournaments almost every year I’ve coached, which is 36 years, and never have seen a kid have a day like that,” Bowlin said. “Not just being 9-for-10, but the quality of the hits. To beat a really good team in Farmington with a game-winning home run. I was awed by the day she had that day.”

Macal’s game has taken another step forward since the Mankato tournament. Now that she has seen how good she can be, she knows she has the ability to replicate it.

“Now every time I go up to the plate, I’ve done it,” Macal said. “So I think ‘OK, you can do it.’ So now I just have to do it. I just want to go up there and do what I know I can do. I don’t think it’s necessarily extra confidence, it’s just going up there and being comfortable in the box and knowing I can do it and staying calm. Because if I get anxious, then it doesn’t work the way I want it to.”

The first sign that the new approach was working came when she hit a pair of doubles in a Section 1AA Tournament game against Rochester Lourdes last year. It showed that the work she had put into her swing could pay off.

“(The game against Lourdes) boosted my confidence and showed me that I could do it if I worked at it,” Macal said. “And that is what drove me.”

“Maybe if she doesn’t get those two doubles against Lourdes, maybe she thinks that we’re talking about isn’t the right plan,” Bowlin said. “A player has to believe in the plan and to her credit she did. It all came down to shortening her swing. And she has just kept it going since that point.”

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