Seated in his normal spot atop a five-gallon bucket in Maple Grove's dugout, Crimson softball coach Jim Koltes relayed the sign for a pitch on a 1-2 count during last week's Class 3A, Section 5 championship game. He then got up and, in a show of confidence in his pitcher, turned away to find his water bottle.
Someone on the bench took notice. Coach must have called a changeup.
Seconds later, Cayli Sadler rocked and fired a pitch toward a Centennial batter.
Changeup. Fooled. Strike three. Inning over.
"The changeup was working," catcher Melanie Johnson said later. "A lot of swinging and whiffing."
Twelve batters fanned for strike three, part of a masterful 16-strikeout performance against the Cougars in a 2-0 victory.
Sadler's performance showcased her selection as this year's Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
"She hits her spots," Koltes said. "And knows how to dissect a ballgame."
Two years ago Sadler helped Maple Grove reach the state tournament as a sophomore shortstop, planted a few feet behind pitcher Shanna Sticka in the Crimson's defensive rotation. This season Sadler is much more in the starring role for the state's No. 1 team, and at or within reach of Sticka's school records in the process.
"As much as I loved shortstop," Sadler said, "I love being in control with the ball."
The Minnesota Duluth recruit enters the state tournament with a program-best 22-1 record, the lone blemish a one-hit loss to Park Center. She defeated Bloomington Jefferson, also a Class 3A tournament team, and handed Mankato West its first loss of the season, halting the Scarlets' 16-game winning streak.
Her 255 strikeouts are nine shy of Sticka's single-season mark. Sadler needs 21 strikeouts this week at Caswell Park in North Mankato to reach 500 for her career.
Not bad for a two-year starter, who pitched from 3 feet farther from home plate than Sticka did during her dominant career.
"There's a deep-down thing inside her that she doesn't want to fail," Koltes said. "She went out last summer and got stronger. She puts in the time and effort, and she's never satisfied."
Koltes and Johnson both noted Sadler's calm demeanor before the section championship game. It turns out the two were just as duped as Centennial's batters.
Though she doesn't like to show it, Sadler admitted that she felt the pressure.
"I usually don't get nervous before games but I was excited and anxious," she said. "I just wanted to get it over with."
She did that, striking out the first eight batters before allowing a two-out double. Unfazed, she got Centennial's leadoff hitter to swing and miss to end the inning and rolled from there. The double turned out to be the only hit she allowed.
"She is super-confident in herself," Koltes said. "Her composure is excellent. She doesn't get super-disappointed or super-excited. And she's very good at making adjustments."
Sadler struck out the side to begin the section championship game but wasn't getting strikes called on her low ball pitches. So on the fly, the game plan changed to include more pitches outside and a few more changeups.
"Not what I was expecting at all," she said of her 16-strikeout afternoon.