After 22 years of coaching baseball and softball, Bill Pelyak was ready to call it quits.
Then, he saw Bailey Shade.
"The head coaching job came open two years ago and some guys were pushing me for it," said Pelyak, a Newton Falls baseball assistant at the time. "I just watched a game during her sophomore year and said, 'Wow. I can win with her.' "
The Tigers won 18 games in 2012 and picked up their 15th in 2013 with a 7-1 win over Liberty on Thursday.
Pelyak will credit Shade and the other three seniors for the program's drastic turnaround, but Shade said it's all on the head coach.
"The sport of softball at Newton Falls wasn't very serious and nobody really cared," Shade said. "After a couple of years, Bill came in and everybody got focused and we knew we could do big things."
She has a scholarship to play at Fairmont State. On May 7, she earned her 800th strikeout (she now has 813 over her four year career).
"It was kind of awesome," said Abbie Harrah, the Tigers' catcher. "It was like, 'Yeah I caught all those. You're welcome.' She's just fantastic, though. It's really easy to be a good catcher when you have a good pitcher."
Shade and Harrah have played against each other since they were little, but have been on the Tigers and Valley Extreme for the past four years.
"I definitely owe it to her," Harrah said. "I wasn't as good or confident in myself until I started catching her."
Shade, whose fastball reaches the low-60's, said the screwball is her favorite pitch. It also was her first pitch as a high school freshman. It was called a strike back in early March of 2010.
"It's natural to me," Shade said. "It's my money pitch."
Harrah said it's her curveball.
"I love the way it fools hitters," she said.
But Ed Beavers, Shade's pitching coach, goes with another weapon in the arsenal.
"I like her rise ball," Beavers said. "It really busts up."
Shade has been taking private lessons with Beavers since she was 10. Beavers, whose daughter, Jackie, was a 1995 Champion graduate and pitched at Tennessee, operates Next Level Pitching. Shade hasn't missed a weekly session with Beavers in eight years.
"He's been through a lot with me," she said. "He's put up with a lot and I can't thank him and all my coaches enough for what they've done."
This year, she's no-hit Brookfield and Southeast and threw a perfect game against Hubbard. Shade owns a 1.86 earned run average and an 11-3 record. She has a season high strikeout total of 21.
"She deserves all the recognition she can get," Pelyak said. "I love her to death. The wins and losses mean a lot, but this is more important."
Next year, a pair of current freshmen, Jenna Balas and Kate Wainwright, will split the pitching duties. Currently, they're Newton Falls' leading hitters.
"They have watched Bailey all year," Pelyak said. "They're going to follow in her footsteps and we shouldn't miss a beat, but it's hard to replace a pitcher like that."