The Aussie Spirit faced some edge-of-the-seat moments during the recent World Championship in Chiba, Japan.
But perhaps the biggest moment of all was the final play of the playoff game against Mexico, the same team that had eliminated Australia from medal contention two years previously.
After a scoreless pitchers’ duel in regulation seven innings, Mexico went ahead with a run in the top of the eighth.
In the bottom of the inning, with Melinda Weaver placed on second, Stacey McManus singled and Stacey Porter was hit by a pitch, bringing up Aussie Spirit outfielder Leigh Godfrey with the bases loaded and Australia down by one run and facing Mexican pitcher Dallas Gosch Escobedo.
What happened next? Godfrey takes up the story. “She’d thrown two outside pitches that were called strikes,” she recalls.
“I knew that I was going to hit anything close to the zone. I thought she’d go outside again and that’s what I focused on.
“I was surprised she threw one up in the zone but she did, and I got a good pitch that I could drive.
“I was just looking to drive the ball behind the runner and it just sort of played out.”
The double to right-centre field scored Weaver and McManus, sparking unbridled joy in the Aussie Spirit dugout and among the Australian fans in the crowd.
It gave the Aussie Spirit a 2-1 victory and guaranteed them a top-four position.
According to Aussie Spirit Head Coach Fabian Barlow, Godfrey was the ideal person to come up to bat in that clutch situation. “Leigh’s crucial game-winning hit against Mexico typified her composed approach to pressure situations,” Barlow says. She was comfortable to get to a two-strike count and then found a pitch she could deliver a good swing on to drive in the winning runs.”
Barlow says the game-winning hit was a just reward for all the hard work Godfrey has put in. “Leigh is a player who the coaching staff has a lot of faith and belief in,” he says. “She knows her own game extremely well and her experience allows her to excel at important times in games and tournaments.
“Leigh will take on board honest feedback and look to make adjustments where suggested by coaches or she has personally identified herself.
“Leigh works really hard on her game. Being a left-handed batter with good running speed, there are a couple of offensive options that a coach can call on and Leigh ensures those options have been prepared really well and that her overall game is on point.”
Batting second in the Aussie Spirit lineup behind the incomparable Porter can be a mixed blessing, but Godfrey believes it’s a great spot in the batting order.
“Hitting behind Porter is a good thing because you usually see a lot of pitching. I’m pretty used to it. I’ve done it many times before. They walk her a fair bit.”
When opposing pitchers intentionally walk Porter ahead of her, Godfrey tried to rise to the challenge.
“I’m comfortable in my own skill set and knowing I can hit any pitcher in the world.
“So I’m pretty happy when they walk her, because it gives me a chance to actually hit. I get pretty excited by it.”
Godfrey says the Aussie Spirit benefited by playing their debut season in the National Pro Fastpitch league before the World Championship. “I came in for the last stages of the NPF season, and for me it was a great build-up because we were able to get a lot of games in a short amount of time.
“It’s one of the best leagues in the world — if not the best — comparable to Japan, so I don’t think there could have been a better preparation going into a World Championship.”
There is no tougher task in international softball than facing up to US pitcher Monica Abbott, but that’s who confronted the Australians in the first playoff round. Abbott was in extraordinary form, striking out the first nine Aussie Spirit hitters she saw on the way to an amazing 18 strikeouts in seven innings.
Abbott allowed only two hits that day. One was a solo home run by Porter, and the other a single to Godfrey.
At 160cm, Godfrey could be forgiven for feeling intimidated by the 191cm Abbott. But she relished the opportunity. “I’ve faced her before. You get used to facing those sort of pitchers. I really enjoy it because it’s a challenge. It’s always good getting hits off the best pitchers in the world.”
After a whirlwind few months, Godfrey, 29, is now “back to reality” in Perth. Among other things, that means focusing on working at Fielders Choice and not on other things, including the Women’s Baseball World Championship in Florida.
In 2014 Godfrey become the first player to win World Championship medals in both softball and baseball. But this year, she decided to focus on softball and not try out for selection in the national baseball team, the Emeralds.
“I love baseball, so it was a really hard decision not to put my hand up for selection,” she says. But I’ve played softball my whole life, so it’s one of those things.”