NEW ALBANY — The IU Southeast softball team was only slightly above average most of the spring, but the Grenadiers finished with a flourish.
Teams that are able to peak at the right time are most likely a group that is buying into what the coaching staff is selling.
Coach Joe Witten and his assistant coaching staff of Bill Pierce, Kendra DeArk Witten and Brookelyn Visker were viewed that way by their peers, earning National Fastpitch Coaches Association NAIA Region V Coaching Staff of the Year on Tuesday.
As Pierce said, "we had a tremendous bunch of women."
The Grenadiers (33-25, 13-5 RSC) finished in second place in the River States Conference during the regular season and then defeated RSC regular-season champions Rio Grande twice while posting three elimination wins on the final day of the tournament to capture the program's first conference tournament title since 2014. IU Southeast has made three trips to the NAIA Softball Opening Round in the last four years and defeated No. 25 Midland (Neb.) 1-0 this season.
Witten was also proud of his group's off-the-field habits. The team had a cumulative 3.55 grade-point average.
"We had more on commissioner's honor roll than ever before," Witten said. "This is a very proud moment. There's no higher acclaim than your peers recognizing you. That was quite a nice honor for the coaching staff."
Witten's staff is a close-knit group, as well. Kendra Witten, a former Jeffersonville High School pitcher, is Joe's wife. And Pierce was his high school baseball coach at Floyd Central.
"He taught me a lot in high school, and we've been successful together there," Joe Witten said.
Pierce, who spent 15 years as athletic director at Floyd Central, asked Witten to consider taking over Floyd Central's softball program and the rest is history.
"We needed a softball coach. I told him, Joe, it's just baseball with girls," Pierce said.
Joe Witten coached 10 years of softball at Floyd Central, accumulating a 222-82-4 record for a .721 winning percentage. The Highlanders won five Hoosier Hills Conference titles, a regional title and made one appearance in the state finals. He was a four-time District 5 Coach of the Year.
When Witten needed an assistant coach four years ago, so he turned to Pierce, who had retired as athletic director and was missing the thrill of athletics.
"It's been a lot of fun. I'd been out of coaching a long time. I missed the competition," Pierce said. "The teaching in practice. Joe loves to teach in practice. Even though they're in college, they have to be taught."
Witten enjoys having Pierce, 72, around because he's not unwilling to disagree with him.
One reason Pierce enjoys working for Witten is because he's not the type of coach who goes over-the-top with screaming and yelling.
"He's even-keel," Pierce said. "He goes about his business. It's a job but also a passion to him. You just keep at it and try to do things right so that something will click. This wasn't an overly talented team. They played better those last 15 games."