By Mike Schoeffel
When Logan Oehler is asked about the best piece of advice she’s ever received about softball, she’s quick to quote her father, Richard Oehler.
“He told me ‘If you want to play, then you have to make your coach play you,’” she said. “He said, ‘You have to be so good that you make them put you on the field.’”
Fine words, indeed, and words that the young Oehler has taken to heart.
Oehler, a sophomore who was promoted to the varsity squad during the playoffs last season, has made head coach Charice Hankins’ decision to pencil her into the starting lineup an easy one. With her father’s words ringing in the back of her mind, Oehler knew that “I had to work harder than the girl next to me to earn my spot.”
She did, she has, and now she’s a stalwart behind the dish for the Panthers.
Her ascension into the starting lineup has been no small feat, not only because of her youth, but also because the Panthers have established themselves as a strong contender, perhaps even the favorite, to win the Conference 4A state title in 2017. The proof is on the stat sheet: a 21-0-1 record (a 9-0 record in district play), a 204-30 run differential, 12 games with 10 runs or more, and an emphatic two-game sweep over Smithville in the bi-district round in which they outscored the Tigers by a combined total of 15-1.
The Panthers will face Athens (12-8, 6-0 in District 18-4A) in the area round beginning on May 6. Liberty Hill lost in the area round to Needville last season after a notable, but hardly dominant, regular season. This year, the Panthers have been on an absolute tear since the opener on February 14.
There have been no valleys, only peaks.
According to Oehler, the formula behind this season’s rousing success is simple, really: it’s all about camaraderie.
“Having a team of players that trusts each other and always has each other’s back is a big deal,” she said. “Without it, it’s easy to fall apart.”
Oehler also praised her teammates’ guts, saying, “Every single player goes all out and puts their heart into the sport to make sure we accomplish our goals.”
Through all of this season’s triumphs, Oehler has donned the “tools of ignorance,” as they’re so popularly known, and gutted it out as the team’s starting catcher. She’s drawn the praise of coaches and teammates, most notably Sam Barnett, a senior headed to Division I UConn this fall.
“Logan came to the varsity level with a competitive mindset,” said Barnett. “She was pretty much already prepared for the varsity level.”
Barnett added that she’s been surprised by Oehler’s “improvement from last season to this season.” The DI-bound senior has been particularly impressed with Oehler’s pop time, which has dropped to 1.84 seconds this year. Pop time, for those who may not know, refers to the time elapsed from the moment the pitch hits the catcher’s mitt to the moment the infielder receives the throw at second. Most Division I programs look for a pop time at 1.8 seconds or faster, according to athleticscholarships.net.
Oehler wants to shrink that time in the years to come.
“I want to throw out anybody that tries to steal a base,” she said.
She also has another goal she’d like to mark off the bucket list before she graduates in 2019.
“I want to hit a dinger,” she said. “More than anything else.”
Her high school goals go beyond the softball field, though, as she’s also a serious and dedicated student. While she said “maintaining straight A’s” has been the most difficult aspect of being a varsity starter, she harbors admirable academic dreams: one day, she hopes to earn a scholarship, not for softball, but for academics.
But softball, of course, is still quite important to her, a truth that she credits to Jesse Garcia, a coach on her select team that “saw potential in me” and “rekindled my love for the sport” after she had a bad experience with a select ball team. In some ways, Garcia may have saved Oehler’s softball career.
“That’s when I really got serious about playing softball,” she said. “That’s when I knew I wanted to play in high school.”
While it’s true that Oehler may always consider her father’s words as the most influential advice she’s ever absorbed about the sport, Barnett has a few words of encouragement of herself — words that Barnett will, no doubt, take to heart just as well.
“My advice is to always stay positive and confident,” she said. “She shouldn’t be afraid to try new things and make mistakes. Logan is a very talented softball player, and I have no doubt she will have great success in this sport.”