Alameda softball helped to redefine small ball this season with its record-setting speed

Alameda softball

(Courtesy of Amber Bravo)

Alameda softball and its head coach Tom Dillingham live by a simple philosophy.

"Speed never takes a day off," Dillingham, a long time softball coach, said. "That has been a philosophy that has always been near and dear to my heart."

Alameda, which finished the 2017 campaign 12-7 and just missed out on the 4A regionals, stole 180 bases this season, breaking the previous record of 179 set by Burlington in 2014 (according to the as-yet unpublished softball record book, which only dates back to 2009).

"The girls know what I'm going to do," Dillingham said. "We don't always steal on the first pitch. We started varying the steal — I look for the count. In particular, if I get a ball in the count, I know I can give up a strike. So, we'll fake bunt and run, or we'll bunt and run."

Since 2014, the Pirates have been plundering bases at will. In 2014, they stole 136. In 2015, 128. Last season, they stole 163.

"My deal has been in the last couple of years particularly, our girls don't hit the long ball," Dillingham said. "They're gap hitters or single hitters. Really, when we hit the ball, it's going to be primarily singles or doubles. I know in my own mind that we have to manufacture runs.

"It's a greater chance to score from second than it is from first. It's a greater chance to score from third than it is from second."

So, Dillingham sticks with what works.

"In looking at softball compared to baseball, the differences between the bases is 60 feet versus 90 feet," Dillingham said. "To me, it makes sense to utilize that if you have it."

Alameda plays small ball. Slap a single somewhere, steal second, steal third and find a way to push the run across. 

"We use the bunt, the fake bunt and the slap more than anyone," Dillingham said. "That's old school softball. A lot of the schools don't do that anymore because they teach the big hit. You go with what you have.

"We really bunt well. It's a lost art. We'll bunt and run, we'll slap and run. It's all small ball stuff. A lot of times, we scored our runs off of bunts."

Alameda's speed is a big part of the reason why the Pirates (12-7) recorded its first winning season in about a decade.

"You show up and you have 17 girls that come out for the sport, and you go, 'This is a bat, this is a ball, this is a glove.' Honest to goodness, that is a true story," Dillingham said. "Of those 17 girls who showed up, we had five girls who were experienced softball players."

Alameda did not have a winning season dating back to at least 2009. 

Alameda softball

(Courtesy of Amber Bravo)

"If you would have asked me at the beginning of the season, 'Thomas, would you take a .500 season?' I'd take it in a second," Dillingham said. "By having girls who really wanted to work hard, we ended up being 12-7. That is probably the highest Alameda has finished in, I would guess, 12 or maybe 15 years."

Dillingham has two speedsters leading the charge in the stolen base effort. Sophomore Chloe Candelaria and junior Sarye Lopez combined for 94 stolen bases this season. 

"One of the things with Chloe is, she runs track," Dillingham said. "On the track team, she runs the 100 and the 200. That tells you she is quick. She can flat fly. You take her skill set in regards to experience and knowledge, the fact that she can flat out fly, and you make it work for you."

Candelaria is leading the state with 52 stolen bases, while Lopez sits at third with 42. 

"When they get on base, I don't even hesitate," Dillingham said. 

These girls have base stealing in their DNA. They know where to slide and what type of slide they need in a given situation.

"Chloe and Sayra slide well," Dillingham said. "They are two of the few girls that I know in the state that will go in head first. They think these things through. If it's the shortstop rotating over, they'll think the shortstop is probably going to the back of the bag, so they slide to the front of the bag."

And this is all set up by Alameda's ability to play small ball, and play it well.

"We steal third a lot. A team has to honor a bunt if you do it," Dillingham said. "They have to honor a fake bunt because you've already put in place the fact that you can bunt. My philosophy is that, even if they cheat a little bit, we can beat the shortstop to the base."

Alameda has formed its identity around its ability to put pressure on the defense with speed on the basepaths. It's created an attitude that the Pirates are going to swipe the bag no matter what the opposing team does.

"To be honest with you, I would have thought there would have been some teams that would pitch out against us," Dillingham said. "Nobody did. Towards the end of the season, teams started throwing the riseball so they could get it up and have the catcher in position to throw. I didn't care. We were running."

This season, what Dillingham is most proud of this season isn't the stolen bases. It's not the turnaround year. It's something far more rewarding.

"My objective is to give the girls a skill set that will help them in life," Dillingham said. "It's much greater than anything we can do we can do with steals, anything we can do with our record. It's to teach core values that allow kids to get to the other side of the tracks. That is what high school sports is supposed to be about."

During the national anthem before their game against Weld Central, Alameda players stood side by side with the Weld Central players on the third base line, arms locked together. When the anthem concluded, the opposing players shook hands with the players on either side of them.

"That's the thing that I'm most proud of in regards to our season," Dillingham said. "That."