Four years before right-handed senior Courtney Gonzales signed her collegiate life away to play softball for Austin College on Thursday at Lumpkins Stadium, her focus was squarely on becoming a left-handed batter and bunter.
“When she was a freshman, Courtney had seen how the girls ran while doing a left-handed bunt,” her mother April Gonzales said. “We originally went there to look for a speed and agility coach, and she wanted to stay to watch Taylor (Lynch), but we found Danny Shaw instead.”
“The first time I met Danny, he approached me with hog blood all over his shirt and spoke in a very sarcastic country accent,” Courtney added. “I begged him to teach me to be a lefty slapper and bunter only because the thought of being a switch hitter sounded cool and it looked like a lot of fun. Sadly, he always told me no and he saw me as more of a power hitter. Since then, I’ve learned there’s just a little bit of heart inside that old man, even if he doesn’t act like it. “
Shaw, as well as Debbie Patton, the 18U American Freedom select softball team’s head coach, and pitching coach Jerry McGinnis, became the holy trio that guided Courtney out of Waxahachie and into Austin.
To those in Ellis County, Shaw is a well-known name. He is the hitting coach for Courtney, Maypearl Lady Panthers Abby Frame and Kayla Hill, Midlothian Lady Panther Georgia Cappell, former Lady Indians Miranda Herron, Ariel Ortiz, Anna Wilhoite, Marissa Hooper and Cheyenne Fults and Oklahoma State University Cowgirl and former Red Oak Lady Hawk Lynch.
Lynch, who has a .437 batting average and set OSU record with a 23-game hitting streak, is a finalist for the NCAA National Freshman of the Year Award.
Herron, who plays for Abilene Christian University, was an Offensive Player of the Year and All-Metroplex Player of the Year and nearly broke the Texas high school softball record for the Lady Indians. Fults batted .469 and collected 39 RBIs, including a walk-off home run on her birthday, during her senior season.
Shaw, an uncensored, gruff and in-your-face old school coach, wasn’t completely sold on Gonzales’ talent as a freshman, though.
“His first words to us were, ‘Who does she play for?’ I didn’t really understand what he was asking, so I said Waxahachie High School,” April continued, her voice peaking as more of a question than a statement. “He dismissed her at first until he saw her hug Miranda, Marissa, Anna and Cheyenne, who had come for private hitting lessons.”
She said Shaw asked her the question again, to which she gave the same answer — Waxahachie High School.
“She don’t play travel ball? I don’t coach players that don’t play travel ball,” Shaw said to Courtney, April and father Richard Gonzales, a former Indians player coached by the legendary Bill Midkiff, in 2012. “She knows Miranda, Marissa, Anna and Cheyenne? Let’s see what she can do.”
Shaw said after seeing her swing the bat a couple of times, asking her where she learned how to bat and grilling her for three straight days, he saw potential, but wasn’t clearly convinced if Courtney would be a mainstay on his roster of talented hitters until a Sunday seven-game tournament in August 2011.
During that tournament, Courtney hit between .720 and .750, had an on-base percentage of .800 and batted in more than 12 RBIs, cementing her and Shaw’s strangely kinetic relationship — one with more of an iron hammer feel than a velvet glove approach.
“I thought she was a mediocre rudy-poo before that tournament, but she proved she could play some softball,” Shaw said. “Her mother wanted me to find out if she could play the game, so I ate her — for three straight games. There’s two kinds of kids that play softball — the ones that want to ball and be at the plate with the bases loaded and the ones that don’t.
There were better athletes on the field, but Courtney showed me that she wanted it and she wanted to ball. On that day, Courtney Gonzales was the best player on the field.”
There were hard conversations and revealing truths and tears, struggles, frustration and slumps, but through it all, Courtney grew into her role as one of the Lady Indians’ most productive and consistent hitters.
“I think we clicked because he was able to critique my hitting in order to improve my swing and I learned to take constructive criticism,” Courtney said. “He did it in a way that always made me laugh, even if it was at myself. It was all worth it and without Danny, Debbie and Jerry helping me develop my mentality and hone my skills, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Courtney is tied for the season home run lead with sophomore Sharrika Levingston, has a BA of .556 and an OBP of .661 in district 14-5A play, according to stats taken from Game Changer softball statistics.
Courtney and Levingston have six home runs each.
Patton said Courtney’s athletic growth and maturation during the year she’s coached her in select softball is only a part of what the Lady Kangaroos will see when she joins practices in the summer after graduation — her will and drive can be key components to any team that wants to win the right way.
“It’s what you want as a collegiate coach. When you bring a kid into a program and they don’t buy in, they’re not going to be successful,” Patton, a former Hillsboro College head softball coach, said about Courtney’s commitment and loyalty to whatever she puts her mind to. “She proved that to us when she came into our (select softball) program, something she had never done before. When she came in, she was behind in the recruiting process. We told her what she needed to do and she went to work.”
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