Hempfield coach Bob Kalp, fresh off 400th win, is a model of consistency
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Wednesday, June 13, 2018 | 6:24 PM
Asked how he and his veteran coaching staff will prepare for the state championship compared to other games, Hempfield softball coach Bob Kalp answered with all the delicacy of a sacrifice bunt.
“No difference,” said Kalp, who chalked up his 400th win Tuesday as Hempfield blanked Nazareth, 2-0, in the PIAA Class 6A semifinals in Fayetteville to punch its ticket to Friday's championship at Penn State. Kalp was shadowed by a Gatorade cooler and doused with ice water after his latest win.
“We prepare for every game the same, whether it is against an 0-10 team or a 10-0 team,” he said. “I believe that the consistent, 100 percent approach is why the program is successful. The players accept the concept that 100 percent effort is necessary to attain maximum results.”
Spoken like a coach who has seen a few games — or 499.
The 73-year-old skipper, who has a record of 400-98-1 in 22 seasons, is among the great softball coaches in the state and his decades-long climb to get there has been a meticulous process executed with precision, reset and then repeated again.
He will look to lead the Spartans (23-3) to another state championship when they face District 11 winner Parkland (24-3) at 4 p.m. Friday at Penn State's Nittany Lion Softball Park.
That simple approach has produced 15 section titles, six WPIAL titles, three PIAA championships and a blueprint for how to run a program.
Continuity has given Hempfield a graceful demeanor as it moves across the postseason dance floor — Rhythm in Blue.
“He's the most predictable coach out there,” Baldwin coach Vince Sortino said. “It's just that his teams execute and don't make mistakes. You know what he's going to do. You just can't give (Hempfield) a second chance — ever.”
Kalp is just a man who loves to coach the game and does it his way. And his way works.
“You don't think about it much during the year because it's so improbable,” Kalp said of returning to the state finals for the third straight time. “Really, in good conscience, how can you think about, well, we're going to go to the state championship? The wins part of it is just the longevity. Heck, you coach long enough you can do that.”
Putting good players in the right positions, armed with confidence honed over hours of droning defensive practice — one coach said Kalp would much rather practice than play games — has become his forte.
After the state quarterfinals, Kalp pondered the next day's plans: “My grass really needs cut, it's pretty high, I need to break down the next opponent and run some other errands — not necessarily in that order,” he said.
And don't forget the sweetest part of his daily routine: visiting with his 97-year-old mother, Dorothy.
“I soak my feet, we each have a fudge bar and we talk about the day,” he said.
Players appreciate Kalp's longevity as much as they do his instruction and motivation.
“He puts a lot of his time and effort into the program,” Hempfield senior pitcher Maddie Uschock said. “He spends hours every day making practice plans, comparing our stats to our opponents' stats, and just thinking about the games in general.
“His 400 wins as a coach is a good combination of Hempfield having some really talented players and him providing them with a really good program to harness that talent.”
Watching those fine-tuned players turn double plays, execute textbook small ball and deliver in the clutch — Hempfield has three one-run wins in the playoffs — is what keeps him coming back for more.
“It takes a special season and a special group of kids,” Kalp said. “And to do it the way we've done it is special.
“These kids are so unselfish. They all do what you tell them to do. No one is looking for the limelight. They're all looking to contribute and get a team win.”
Kalp relies heavily on a large and seasoned coaching staff that could fill out a lineup card. It includes fellow 70-somethings and longtime chums Dick Albright and Ray Mello, along with Jenna Keefer, Matt Knizner, John Sherrow, Melissa Lupinacci, Brittany Fenn and Wes Dugan.
“Years of hard work by my staff and former players have created a culture that expects to work hard and be successful,” Kalp said. “The heavy boulder once pushed over the hill moves itself.”
Hempfield hasn't lost a playoff game since 2015.