Brett Miller seldom shows emotion on a softball field.
The ordinarily stoic Solanco softball coach made an exception after reaching a career milestone.
Miller notched the 500th victory of his 31-year career Wednesday, May 1, as the Mules topped host Ephrata 9-0.
Afterwards, while addressing his team in the outfield grass and expressing his gratitude for their roles in the feat, Miller choked back tears.
He acknowledges this year's squad is special to him and exemplifies what has made the Mules program so successful – a team comprised of some stars and role players who share the same desire, dedication, and determination required to produce winning softball squads.
"What I really liked was it was this group," said Miller. "There are some seniors here, who, after four years in the program, this is the first time they're playing varsity and they're contributing. Noelle Schneider. Kelsey Sheets. Desiree DeHaven played some last year. They're contributing. The point is, those kind of people who have the kind of ability that helps you have a successful program. Then there are the other players who just work hard. It was nice to have the JV players here to realize that's how it goes. You've got to work hard at it. It's cliche, but you've got to commit to it. Some of the girls here have been with me a long time. They hear me at practice and practice is a little different. Practices are important. That's where you win and lose the game. You've got to make sure the practices are worth something and it appears we do."
Solanco players were proud to play a part in the accomplishment. "It's really special," Skyla Townsley said. "You feel like you're family now. He's inspiring. He helps you on the field and off the field. He teaches you so much."
Although often not outwardly emotional during games, the always affable Miller is able to make his players laugh while meeting in the circle during tense moments of a game.
"You tell the girls to go have fun," Miller said. "We spell fun 'w-i-n'. And you have to work hard to do that. I've been fortunate that over the years the girls have been willing to do that. [The Ephrata game] was the same thing. It took awhile but the girls just keep playing, keep trying, and keep going. It's 500. It's not just another game, but it is another game and the approach is we want to win it."
Miller says consistency is key. "I've been extremely fortunate," said Miller, who is a science teacher at Solanco High. "I've only had three assistant head coaches – John Hess, Tom Stouffer, and Jason McClune. I've only had a few other coaches on the JV level. So I think that consistency is the first thing. Part of it is we drill a lot of basic and fundamental skills. You hit a lot of ground balls. One girl might get 60 to 70 ground balls in a practice. That's part of the process."
Townsley also cites practice habits as a major reason for the Mules' tradition of triumphs. "He individualizes practice so he gives everybody their fair share and teaches them what they need to be taught," she said.
"It's crazy," Hanna Phillips said of her coach's win total. "I really look up to Mr. Miller. I enjoy playing for him. He's a very knowledgeable man and encouraging and knows a lot about pitching."
Miller has won 74 percent of his games. "You have to have players who have skills sets and you've got to make them better and you've got to make them believe in themselves," Miller said of his success. In his 31 years at the helm, Miller's teams have won 18 section titles. Solanco has captured three Lancaster-Lebanon League titles and finished second three more times. The Mules have made three state tournament appearances including a loss in last year's state semifinals and have finished third in the district three times and fourth on three occasions.
"This is my 675th game and 500 wins," said Miller. "I've been really fortunate to have this community. They provided me the opportunity. They given me some players and excellent girls, just good kids, good people. They're willing to work for you."
Sierra Dean tossed a shutout and Jade Eshelman belted a three-run homer to lead the Mules.
Solanco took a 2-0 lead in the first. Kendal Janssen walked with one out and Sierra Dean reached on a two-out error. Janssen and courtesy runner Mackenzie Britigan each scored on a wild pitch.
Janssen added an RBI double in the Mules' two-run fourth.
In the sixth, Eshelman blasted a shot way over the left field fence to make it 7-0.
Kara McClune clubbed an RBI triple in the seventh and Janssen followed with a sharply hit single to center.