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First impressions are a funny thing.
Initially, two pitchers from Winter Springs (Fla.) seem very different. On one hand, you have Elizabeth Birle, a smiley, gregarious junior who oozes positive energy and is frequently seen laughing on the softball field. On the other, you have Kiersten Coffman, a focused, driven senior whose all-business demeanor in the circle might make Donald Trump jealous.
But, as the adage goes, opposites attract, and these two best friends recently accomplished a softball feat that proved they have a lot in common: For two consecutive games, they were both perfect.
Perfect games don't come along very often. They are a rare gem that requires the perfect combination of talent and luck, and rarely does this concoction survive batter after batter for an entire game, much less an entire two games.
Such was the case last month when Winter Springs, which is ranked 19thin the POWERADE FAB 50, looked to bounce back from a narrow 2-1 loss to a district rival with games against 8A teams (the highest level in Florida high school softball) Lyman (Longwood, Fla.) and Lake Brantley (Altamonte Springs, Fla.).
Birle, who has given a verbal commitment to Virginia Tech, would take the circle in the game against Lyman on March 5 to try and shut down the opposition and enable her Bears to bounce back from their first loss of the season. After a 1-2-3 first inning, a Lyman hitter scalded a grounder to third, where third baseman Brooke Potchen took a stab to her left and nonchalantly threw out the runner at first.
"Plays like that really make you realize that your fielders have your back," Birle said. "Even if other people don't recognize it, you as a pitcher appreciate the effort even more because they make it look so routine. It really got me going."
She's not kidding. From that point on, it was all Lyman could do to make contact with Birle's pitches, and its hitters never truly squared up on a ball the rest of the night (only two batters got the ball to the outfield).
Calling pitches for Birle that night was her father, Eric, who is an assistant coach on the Winter Springs team.
"I understood Elizabeth had a perfect game going in the top of the fourth, but of course I'm not allowed to say that to anybody else," said Eric, who pitched in college for Old Dominion's baseball team. "So I go up to her after the game and I say, 'Great job! That was a perfect game,' and she goes, 'Oh, really?' "
Next up was Coffman, the senior captain who had taken the previous week's loss especially personal. Coffman apologized to the team, saying, "That was my fault, I didn't have enough fun," and told the team that it needed to start taking care of its business. This would be her first opportunity to lead by example in the circle.
Much like Birle’s outing the night before, Coffman was on point with her delivery and rarely allowed Lake Brantley hitters to square up on her pitches. In fact, just as in Elizabeth's outing, a mere two balls even escaped the infield's perimeter. Twelve out of 21 batters didn't even get the chance to run to first base as they were retired via strikeout.
As the workhorse of the Winter Springs staff, Coffman’s performance might have been the more predictable of the two. Even Birle admits that she was elated for her friend.
“She has had like 20 no-hitters and 50 one-hitters,” Birle said. “But to pitch a perfect game, now you know that you've accomplished something."
The game had to be especially gratifying for Coffman, who will pitch for the University of Delaware next season, as her immense talent may have been slightly underestimated on the collegiate level as a result of nagging injuries her sophomore and junior years.
That's why Winter Springs coach Mark Huaman had to work extra hard to keep his composure during her historic run.
"Every inning I knew [a second consecutive perfect game] was possible, but I also knew that I had to keep my mouth shut," Huaman said. "Then she struck out the last girl on an absolutely evil change-up. I jumped off the ground and the girls made fun of me because they actually saw air underneath my feet."
That's how excited he was. And deservedly so. In the 15-year history of the Winter Springs softball program, there had never been a perfect game. Now there had been two in as many days by as many pitchers.
No runs. No walks. No hits. No errors. No bragging either. The only thing Birle and Coffman did to celebrate was give the other a shout out on Twitter.
That kind of modest leadership is why Winter Springs is aiming to reach at least the state semifinals for the third consecutive year.
"I feel that our team is very blessed in that we all love each other," Coffman said. "I think that's a really unique thing in high school softball, and it really helps me to stay focused on what we're trying to do."
Huaman, a father of three daughters (ages 3, 6, and 9), echoed Coffman's sentiment and credited the leadership of his pitching staff for making his job as a coach much less stressful.
"If my daughters turn out like either of them I will think I did a pretty good job," Huaman said.
And why wouldn't he? After all, they'd be perfect.