Mark Paxton is known as a hard-nosed, hard-driving coach who likes to push his players.
He also knows when to take his foot off the pedal.
It’s a fine line and Paxton evidently knows how to walk it, leading Licking Valley to the Division II state championship. He is The Advocate’s 2013 Softball Coach of the Year, an honor he also earned a year ago.
After the Panthers made the regional semifinals in 2012, they set their goals high from the start this spring. Too high, Paxton admitted.
“In February and March, everyone was talking about Akron from the get-go,” he said. “We were looking way too far down the road, and we were a little shaky at the beginning of the year, up and down.
“About a week and a half in, we quit looking at May and June, and started focusing on next pitch, next at-bat, next game. Even in the state, it was ‘play in the moment.’ Even when Shelby (McCombs) got off to a rough start (in the title game), it was all about making the next pitch.”
McCombs said although Paxton often is fired up, she also sees a different side of him.
“He motivates us,” she said. “When we’re playing and he’s waving those arms around, he’s so crazy, and we feed off that. But he’s laid back and relaxed in practice — kind of lets us do our own thing. He lets us do our own thing hitting and fielding. He likes to play small ball, but he also knows there’s hits throughout that lineup.”
Although Valley’s seven sophomores get the lion’s share of the credit, Paxton pointed out the play of the Panthers’ seniors.
“We had four super seniors,” he said. “CheyAnn Cramer got hot in the tournament and, as a four-year starter, her leadership was so big. Whitley Trussler had some huge hits; Emily Harrington contributed in the state; and Courtney Mayes had that big hit at home against Lakewood.”
Nine Panthers each had one hit in the state title win.
“We always talked about being strong (Nos.) 1 through 9 in the order, so it was very fitting,” Paxton said.
The fact Valley won the school’s first-ever team state championship is starting to sink in.
“They’re talking about fitting us for rings,” Paxton said. “We’re going to be grand marshals of the Red, Blue and Kaboom Fourth of July parade in Hanover, and they’re going to put up state championship signs at every entrance to Hanover. We’re going to have a big bonfire before the parade, and they’re going to put a big picture up of us in the school.”
Paxton, who recently eclipsed 300 wins for his career between Valley and Sheridan, thinks his team will be hungry for another state title in his eighth season. The seven sophomore starters will be juniors next time around.
“Right now, I’m going to enjoy this, and they’ll go and do their summer stuff,” he said. “Come February and March, we’ll get back to work.”