Passing it along: Local pitching coach helps turn high school players into aces

Published 12:04 pm Saturday, May 26, 2018

During last Saturday’s sectional game against Tellico Plains, the Lady Rangers were one strike away from advancing to the state tournament.

And with a rise ball, Unaka senior pitcher Corie Schuettler struck out a Tellico Plains batter swinging erupting Stoney Creek into cheers.

Sitting on a bucket behind the fence at the backstop was Elizabethton’s Jarfly Dugger, who for the past two years had been training Schuettler in pitching.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“That was a cold-blooded pitch,” said Dugger about Schuettler game-winning strike. “Nobody. I mean, nobody throws that jumping riser on a 3-2 pitch. That is something I would have done. That ball jumped two foot.”

Over the winter months, Schuettler and Dugger, along with Unaka catcher Katlyn Weaver, could be found every Saturday morning in Stoney Creek working on the senior’s skills as they prepared for the upcoming season, a season that eventually saw the Lady Rangers make their second-straight trip to the state tournament. And on those Saturday mornings, Schuettler and Dugger were cooking up the Schuettler’s mean rise ball, a pitch that created many problems for opponents over the seasons.

“You know, we have worked on that pitch,” said Dugger. “Worked on it, worked on it and worked on it. We finally got it down, and it is her pitch.”

In the postseason leading up the Lady Rangers trip to the state tournament, Unaka went untouched as they rolled to district and region titles. In the Lady Rangers region final with North Greene, the game went 13-innings before Unaka pulled out a 3-2 win, and during that game and many others, Schuettler, who threw 180 pitches against North Greene, said Dugger was there to keep her focused, reminding her, no matter the score, to not back down.

“He would always look at me and be like, ‘Corie, it’s a 0-0 game,”‘ said Schuettler. “He would say that every time. We could be up 10 runs, and I had a problem sometimes of letting up, and he was always standing back there telling me it’s a 0-0 game.

“It just always helped a lot, especially in that 13-inning game against North Greene,” added Schuettler.

Over the years, Schuettler and Dugger have forged a close bond, and according to Schuettler, Dugger is more like a family member than a pitching coach.

“He is truly one of the few people who believed in me and knew that I could do it,” said Schuettler. “I would consider him more of a second grandfather than a pitching coach. We just have a really strong bond. He helped me tremendously.”

Starting at the age of 14, Dugger played in a local church league for many years. When he started out, Dugger covered centerfield for the Eastside Church team, which had a pitcher by the name of Ken “Tater-Nosed” Hardin, the father of Elizabethton head softball coach Ken Hardin. It was while watching Hardin from centerfield that Dugger got the idea he wanted to try pitching himself.

‘I would watch him from centerfield,” said Dugger. ” And I just decided I wanted to pitch. I went into service down in California with the Navy and Marines. I just started working on it, and when I came back here I was throwing.

“I had an amazing catcher for years, Scotty Bunton,” added Dugger. “Scotty helped me more than anybody with my pitching.”

Dugger would go on to pitch for 30 years as he honed his pitching down to a science. Dugger, however, hasn’t kept what he knows about slinging a ball in for strikes to himself.

Over 25 years, Dugger has worked with many pitchers. He is currently working with Happy Valley’s Abby Holt who will be a sophomore next season. Dugger is also getting three Unaka Elementary eighth graders ready for high school ball, and Dugger does his training free of charge.

With all of the pitchers he has seen, he said that Schuettler is right up there with the best of them.

“I have had quite a few good ones, and she is right there,” said Dugger. “Corie can throw all the pitches with speed. She is right there at the top. She is as good as they come. She amazes me with what she has done.

“And Katlyn Weaver there behind the plate, she was there every Saturday morning catching her,” said Dugger. “She was always there right with her.”

According to Dugger, what makes Schuettler such a formidable pitcher is her perfectionist attitude.

“She is just wonderful to work with,” said Dugger. “She just buys into everything. She tries everything. We spent every Saturday morning through the winter in that building. She would be there for two hours throwing. Everything had to be perfect. She is a perfection. She would throw, and throw, and throw until she got it right.”

The Lady Rangers finished up their season Thursday as they fell to Whitwell during the state softball tournament in Murfreesboro. Schuettler will now turn her attention to Walters State Community College where she will play for the Lady Senators.