WARSAW – The circle can be a lonely place. For Courtney Chookie, it’s become home.
The senior hurler for the Warsaw softball team has called the chalk circle home, the roughly 200 square feet of real estate in the center of the softball diamond. For four seasons, Chookie has taken the neon yellow ball and claimed that space within the white chalk dust as her own. She’s bound and determined to make 2019’s residency her best yet.
Chookie enters her fourth year as the primary starter for the Lady Tigers, already coming in with a host of accomplishments on her résumé, but some gaps within the text as well. In her first three years, Chookie established herself as one of the finest pitchers in Warsaw history, piling up 25 pitching wins as well as 262 strikeouts, the Ks a school record for a career. Not overpowering, but effective just the same, Chookie walked just 38 batters in over 146 innings of work.
“Now is the time for Courtney to grow up in the sense that she needs to control that circle, control the game she pitches,” said Warsaw head coach Kevin Dishman.
Chookie has taken the ball for Dishman’s program, for the most part, almost every game. In the 74 games Warsaw has played, Chookie has made an appearance in 70 of those contests. Her innings have also increased from freshman to junior year, going from 129 as a rookie to 146 last year. It has been her accuracy, however, that has been the most remarkable about Chookie’s game.
“I’ve always felt like I’ve been a consistent pitcher, not as much speed, but hitting my spots,” Chookie said. “Worked on that with my dad in the yard a lot. It’s all a mental game. Just telling myself that I can do it and having my team behind me if I do make a mistake. I like when they talk on the field and, I like the noise. I like being in those moments.”
Chookie has gradually become one of the top pitchers in the Northern Lakes Conference, dropping her earned run average from 5.30 as a freshman to 2.82 as a junior, and lowering her WHIP by almost a full point. Her junior ERA was one of the top figures in the conference for starting pitchers. The command of the strike zone, and when to stay away from it, has been one of her biggest improvements.
“I feel like I need to just keep working on that accuracy and gaining a little more speed on my pitches,” said Chookie, who signed earlier this month to continue playing softball at Hanover College. “Experience is just going to be the biggest thing for this team. Most of us that have played for a long time have played together in travel, or we play travel outside of high school, so we might be a little young on the roster, but we’ve all played a lot of softball.
“Age-wise, it doesn’t really matter. Our goal is all the same.”
Dishman hasn’t had to make many decisions when it comes to the circle. This year, however, that could slightly change. While Chookie will remain the workhorse for the Lady Tigers, Warsaw will have something it hasn’t had much of the past few years – options.
Kennedy Tennant is the resident Tim Wakefield of the pitching corps, who doesn’t throw much harder than 40 miles per hour, but the reduced speed messes with hitter’s timing. Tennant had the 16 innings Chookie didn’t throw last season, and while she only gave up nine earned runs, Tennant allowed 36 baserunners in those 16 innings. Dishman also has three other pitchers who will develop in the JV ranks, but have the potential to spot start when needed.
Warsaw, which finished 10-15 overall and 7-7 in the NLC in 2018, tied for third in the conference with Goshen with a roster that lost just two senior regulars from its roster.
Warsaw’s top two hitters, Lindsey Bradley and Katie Anderson, bring in 2018 batting averages of .470 and .390, with Anderson leading the team with 26 runs scored and Bradley driving in 24. Izzy Dittmar (.329, 25 runs, 18 RBI) should be a constant in the middle of the lineup, and Dishman has seen an uptick in preseason production from Carmen Albertson (12 runs) and Hailey Locke (nine runs), Locke coming back from an arm injury from a season ago.
“This group isn’t thinking about ages, they are thinking about being a team,” Dishman said. “We all wear Warsaw on our jersey whether the girls are seniors or freshmen, they have to play the game the same way. It’s been that way for a while now without having really big graduating classes go through recently. This is our biggest, with six, since I’ve been here. This year we have a full team of softball players.”