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Which pitch is assistant's call

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Betty Zamora rarely calls Donna Tofft by her first name even though they are co-workers and coaching colleagues at Lincoln High School. The “Ms. Tofft” habit is difficult for Zamora to break. Zamora graduated from Lincoln High in 2002, so Tofft was once her teacher and softball coach. Zamora joined the faculty in the fall as a math teacher and has now joined Tofft in the dugout. “More often than not, it’s Ms. Tofft,” Zamora said in admitting her habit. “And I think she has a hard time calling me ‘Coach.’ I’ve always been Betty to her, but I’m not one of the kids anymore.” Tofft has long wanted Zamora to be her right-hand woman, but Zamora was an assistant at Sierra College the past two seasons. To return to her alma mater, Zamora needed a full-time job. “I’ve been trying to get her for four or five years,” Tofft said. When she is not teaching in the classroom, Zamora is learning on the softball field. Tofft has entrusted Zamora to work with the pitchers and catchers. Zamora also calls pitches in the games. “Pitchers and catchers are the hard part,” Tofft explained. “I’ll take care of everything else.” Zamora has never been a pitcher or catcher, however. She was a utility player during her days at Lincoln High, Sierra College and Chico State. She works with the outfielders during practices. In becoming a pitching coach, Zamora did her homework by calling softball coaches who know far more about pitching than she does. She has also counted on Michele Granger for sage advice. Granger speaks from the experience of being a gold medalist with the U.S. softball team in the 1996 Olympics. Granger is Sierra College’s pitching coach, so Zamora can attest to her expertise. “I picked up a lot of drills from her,” Zamora said. “I call her from time to time just to ask her questions.” Zamora also listens to her pitchers and learns from them. To some extent, she said, the pitchers are actually “educating themselves” by learning how to devise a strategy for each opposing batter. Strategy is the name of the game for Zamora. She studies each opponent’s statistics to find out which players are the hot hitters. She also keeps an eye on hitters once they are in the batter’s box. “I think more about the batter than the pitcher,” she said. “I look at where they are in the box and how they swing. I tell the pitchers where to throw the ball and expect them to nail their spots.” Zamora calls each pitch with a signal to catcher Courtney Jones, who then signals the call to the pitcher. Zamora allows the pitchers to shake off any call, but Jones is prohibited from doing so. Jones laughed when asked whether she feels left out because she has no say in calling a pitch. She pointed out that she already has enough to do with translating Zamora’s signals to the pitcher. Zamora is aggressive in calling pitches, Jones said. For example, Zamora will not always waste a pitch after the first two pitches to a batter are strikes. Zamora is more likely to go for the strikeout. “She doesn’t slack off,” Jones said. Jones started behind the plate Monday in Lincoln’s 9-4 victory at Woodland. Freshman Kelsey Pipkins caught the last two innings. Jones is just a sophomore, but experience is evident. “(Pipkins) wants to learn and she takes it all in. She’s not afraid to ask questions,” Zamora said. “I’ve got the full package with Courtney. She knows what she’s doing.”