Joe Fittante thought his coaching days were over. He had coached his daughter through her sixth grade season but decided not to continue in that role as Joie Fittante moved into Shakopee's high school program.
"I think both she and I needed to go our own way and mature a little bit," he said, laughing.
The separation paid dividends. Joie joined the Sabers' varsity as an eighth grader, Joe took on a two-year reclamation project at Robbinsdale Armstrong and then, the father and daughter reunited on the softball field last year, leading Shakopee to an upset of Prior Lake in the Class 4A, Section 2 final and into the state tournament.
"Everything went so well on so many levels last season," Joe Fittante said. "To expect it all to go that well again might be a pipe dream. We'll see how it goes."
It won't take long to get a feel for how Year 2 of Fittante's tenure will go. The Sabers (0-0, 0-0) take on 2017 Class 4A state champion Farmington on Wednesday in our Top Game of the Week.
Joie, who hit .567 last season, has become one of the best catchers in the state. And the Sabers return three — yes, three — quality pitchers from a team that finished sixth at the Class 4A state tournament last spring.
Junior Payton Marker and seniors Mackenzie Doering and Lauren Lindahl give Shakopee depth in the circle. Each has her own strengths and the variety allows Fittante to rotate his pitchers between and within games to keep opposing hitters off balance.
Farmington doesn't have a lot of varsity experience, but the Tigers (1-1, 0-0) have four players returning from the 2017 state championship team, including all-state shortstop Olivia Hazelbaker and catcher Katelyn Mohr.
Tigers coach Paul Harrington said he is still looking for a pitcher to win the leading role and will go with a committee of starters early this season.