Zuehlke's focus pays off

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GRANITEVILLE --- The third-base coaching box on Midland Valley's baseball diamond offers a pretty clear view of the school's softball field.

Bruce Zuehlke coached Midland Valley's baseball team, which lost to Brookland-Cayce in the Lower State title game. His daughter, Haley, started on the softball team as an eighth-grader.  Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Bruce Zuehlke coached Midland Valley's baseball team, which lost to Brookland-Cayce in the Lower State title game. His daughter, Haley, started on the softball team as an eighth-grader.

Bruce Zuehlke, the baseball coach, stood there every game this season, most of the time resisting the urge to see what was going on across the way. His daughter, Haley, was the softball team's starting catcher as an eighth-grader.

While Haley's play was one of the main reasons the softball team enjoyed the best season in school history, Zuehlke remained focused on baseball, no matter how easy it might have been to do otherwise.

Zuehlke is The Augusta Chronicle's South Carolina Baseball Coach of the Year for leading the Mustangs to a 22-11 record and finishing the year ranked fifth in Class AAA.

Midland Valley fell to eventual state champion Brookland-Cayce in the Lower State championship game. The Mustangs, needing to win two games in one night on the road, took the first, then fell 8-1 in the decisive game.

On the same night in Graniteville, Midland Valley's softball team was battling Darlington in search of its first Lower State title.

After the baseball game, Zuehlke buzzed friend and football coach Rick Knight, in search of a softball update.

He happened to call just as Haley came to bat with two out and the bases loaded.

Knight offered him the play-by-play as Haley flew out sharply to center field. Midland Valley's season ended an inning later.

Zuehlke had to know this sort of situation was coming, the way Haley followed him to the fields as a youngster, constantly occupying herself with drills. At the baseball field, she would often take swings on the pitching machine, dropping the maximum of 36 baseballs into its belly and standing in as it fired them every eight seconds on the highest speed.

Zuehlke estimates he saw his daughter play three or four innings all season. The softball and baseball teams, right down to that final night, usually played at the same time.

"It sure was an exciting time around here this spring," Zuehlke said. "We're trying to do that for every season."

Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or matt.middleton@augustachronicle.com.


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