The Central Lady Bulldogs have not only made it to the regional semifinals, but they've done it in dominant fashion.You could say their success is based off their talent, their team chemistry, or maybe it has something to do with their coach's unusual lucky charm that he's trimmed each round they advance.
It's hard to talk to Central head softball coach Shane Tobias with a straight face these days. He’s currently sporting two furry quotations marks around his chin, that he has shaved with his facial hair.
“There will be some hair left after all this but I may have to go to the eyebrows or something. I don't know yet,” said Tobias.
Tobias’ facial hair has turned into a piece of art this playoff run and it’s served as a comical distraction at times.
“I'm pretty sure every time they look at me they want to giggle. Jarynn Sprinkle, my left fielder, actually said, ‘Coach, I'm not sure I can take signs from you looking like that.'”
It’s the first time Tobias has ever sculpted his beard during the postseason, and there’s no denying it may actually be leading to something considering the Lady Bulldogs are four rounds deep into the playoffs.
“He's never done it before and we're at our farthest we’ve ever been so I don't want him to stop now,” said first basemen Railey Oates.
For each round the Lady Bulldogs advance to, a new design is shaped by the hands of Tobias himself. Each look is designated to its own title.
The first piece was named ‘The Butt Kicker’ for the bi-district.
“We were calling him ‘Joe Dirt’ the first practice we saw him, trying to embarrass him. It's been a joke for everyone now,” said Oates.
Then it was morphed into what Tobias calls ‘The Foo Man Shoo’ for the area-round.
“You can definitely tell how dedicated he is to us,” said Central shortstop Makenna Bell. “I think with every round that we go, he just puts a little something extra in it for us to keep us laughing and keep us going.”
‘It’ was then boldly chiseled down to ‘The Thinker’ for the regional quarterfinals.
“I think it’s more embarrassing for him than it is for us. He's the one walking around all the time with it,” said Bell. “When the coaches go up to each other to shake hands, you can tell the other coach is like, 'What are you doing with your facial hair?'”
Now that the Lady Bulldogs have found themselves in the regional semifinals ‘it’ has transformed.
“I had ‘The Thinker’ with just the two lines, and not it's ‘The Thinker x 2,’” said Tobias.
Since art always has meaning to it, the most recent look clearly displays racing strips which resemble Central's race to state.
“I think the best part is when we play these teams we've never been around before, they think that that's normal for him,” said Oates.
While the hairy looks have basically made their own roster spots by now, it so far has done its job and that has been to ease off any pressure while the Lady Bulldogs win one round at a time.
“We just wanted them to relax. I don't care what anybody thinks so neither should they. That's the whole thought process behind it,” said Tobias.
“It's definitely taken the edge off of things and made it not so nerve wracking,” said Oates. “He always tells us that this is meant to be fun. Although it’s a completion, it's meant to be fun and I think it helps keep that into the game.”
The mustache art will continue as long as Central’s season does.
Their regional semifinal matchup will be against Little River Academy starting Thursday night in Mumford at 6:30 p.m. Game 2 will be Saturday in Madisonville starting at 5 p.m. If necessary, Game 3 will follow Game 2.
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