Mike Forsythe: The Road More Traveled
May 19, 2017
by Anna Claire Thomas
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (May 19, 2017) -- The distance between Fort Collins, Colorado, and Ruston, Louisiana, stretches 1,110 miles.
That is the journey Mike Forsythe has come to know so well he could probably do it in his sleep.
Forsythe is in his second season as the volunteer pitching coach for the Louisiana Tech Lady Techsters, a staff that is one of the most impressive in the history of the program during the last 25 years and one of the toughest in Conference USA.
It is also a pitching staff that led Louisiana Tech to the 2017 Conference USA Tournament championship last week in Hattiesburg, earning the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008.
Tech opens up play in the Tuscaloosa Regional today when it faces the No. 1 ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers at 1:30 p.m. at Rhoads Stadium.
"What you have to do is find a pitcher who has the base mechanics you feel you can work with and then you can enhance what they do and Mike is the best at picking that out," head coach Mark Montgomery said. "He is able to take a Preslee [Gallaway] and make her better or take a Krystal [De La Cruz] and make her better. And I think it shows. In terms of our statistics, I think we have the number one pitching staff in Conference USA and I feel like that is a testament to Mike in terms of his ability to work with different types of pitchers and make them better."
It is a pitching staff that has garnered all-conference honors in both seasons Forsythe has been at the helm. LA Tech recorded a 2.35 team earned run average this season, the lowest in the program since 2002. The 18 shutouts the Lady Techsters registered in 2017 is the most in C-USA and the most by a LA Tech team since 1999 season.
De La Cruz earned first team all-Conference USA honors and also nabbed Newcomer of the Year honors in her first season under Forsythe after going 13-3 with a 1.76 ERA. She picked up C-USA All-Tournament team honors after recording a 3-0 record with a 0.37 ERA in conference tournament play, including tossing back-to-back complete-game victories over regular season champion Marshall and FIU.
"He has helped me so much," De La Cruz said. "He knows when to keep pushing me and he knows my ability. When he can't be here, he still sends us the pitching workouts. We know he expects us to get it done. When he is watching, we know we have to perform. He knows his stuff. He goes so into detail watching film and watching every single thing about those hitters."
Not to be outdone, Gallaway earned second team all-conference honors with a 15-13 mark and a 2.66 ERA. She saved one of her best performances for late in the season, tossing every pitch in a10-inning, 1-0 win over WKU in the elimination bracket of the C-USA Tournament.
This marks the first time in LA Tech softball history two pitchers earned all-league honors in the same year. This coming just one year after Forsythe's tutelage helped now junior Bailey Allen earn first team all-Conference USA accolades in 2016.
Even freshman Jenny Chapman has benefited her rookie campaign from the veteran pitching coaches presence. They all have.
Forsythe's journey to becoming the pitching guru behind the Louisiana Tech Softball staff's gaudy statistics can probably be summed up best as the road less traveled; or more traveled in his case. Earlier in his career, Forsythe also coached professionally for the Akron Racers in the National Pro Fastpitch League.
In his younger days, he played fastpitch softball for the ASA Men's AA Division for 23 years -- his dad played for 27 years -- until retiring in 1989. His 1988 fastpitch team won the national championship for men's ASA major in Bloomington, Illinois.
He spent plenty of time traveling in those days. However, today, as the volunteer assistant for the Lady Techsters, he might spend even more as he commutes back and forth from Colorado throughout the school year to oversee and coach LA Tech's pitching staff.
He makes three to four trips to Ruston each fall to guide the pitchers. In the spring, he makes the trek to north Louisiana about 12 to 15 times. Catching a flight from Denver to Dallas on a Wednesday, Forsythe will then hop in a rental car and drive the rest of the way prior to a weekend series before returning to his home in Fort Collins to give pitching lessons early in the week.
It is a brutal schedule to keep up with, but one he is dedicated to in order to make Louisiana Tech's staff one of the best.
"It's awkward and it's weird and makes no sense to 99 percent of the people out there, but yet, it is absolutely the best thing for our program," Montgomery said. "It is working and I think it shows. He makes it work because he wants to be here and we want him here. As long as he wants to keep doing it, we want him here."
In the summer of 2010, Forsythe and Montgomery joined forces at Northern Colorado where the two formed a tight coaching bond for two seasons. At the time, Forsythe was still commuting, but this time, it was from his home in Connecticut to Greeley, Colorado, where Northern Colorado is based about 45 minutes outside of Fort Collins.
After two seasons, Forsythe decided to forgo commuting and officially make the move to Colorado. Enter Louisiana Tech. Soon after Forsythe moved to Colorado, Montgomery was offered and accepted the head coaching job for the Lady Techsters.
While Montgomery was tasked with taking over the program in Ruston, Forsythe stayed behind to continue his coaching duties at Northern Colorado. But after two seasons apart, the coaching twosome was reunited.
"There was a mutual friend of ours at a convention named Paul and I said, `Man, I miss Mike,' and he said, `you guys should be coaching together. He loved coaching with you more than anybody else,'" Montgomery said. "So Mike calls me and said, `I'd like to finish my career working with you. I know you are going to get a team into the NCAA Tournament. I know how you work and how you are.'"
Although the two both wanted to coach together once again, the issue of commuting was once again at the forefront.
"I told my wife I was either retiring or I would talk to Mark and see if we could arrange something," Forsythe said. "He is a great head coach and he gives me the best chance to get back to the College World Series, so if I was going to do it, it was going to be with Mark or somebody like that. Mark and I talked and decided we did it once and we could do it again with this commuting situation. I wanted to get back here and Mark gave me the best chance and look where we are."
In his first season in Ruston, Forsythe commuted back and forth from Fort Collins to Ruston, but handled the majority of his coaching responsibilities remotely. Now in his second season guiding the Lady Techster pitchers, Forsythe is aided by former LA Tech pitcher Bianca Duran, who joined the coaching staff in the offseason. So while Forsythe still endures a tiring travel schedule, there is now a coach on hand in Ruston to implement his game plan when he is unable to be there himself.
"During the week, it is kind of tough because you kind of want the criticism outside of games. But then again, whenever he is here, we know we have to be focused and even when he's not here," Gallaway said. "Last year when no one was down in the bullpen, we might get sidetracked here and there, but this year with Bianca here, she makes sure we are doing the right thing."
As Forsythe continues to make the trip from Colorado to Louisiana throughout each fall and spring, it is clear there are not many people he would make this sacrifice for week in and out. His relationship with Montgomery has withstood countless plane rides, a pair of softball programs and more frequent flyer miles than you could count.
"We will toss back and forth what we think is going on, but when it comes to really forming a game plan and studying, he knows that that is what I do," Forsythe said of the coaching dynamic with Montgomery. "That is our relationship. He trusts me completely and really the whole staff. When you coach with Mark Montgomery, you have a job to do and he expects you to go out and do it. He kind of oversees it like good head coaches do."
The 1,000-plus mile trip stretching between his home in Fort Collins to his job in Ruston is no doubt taxing on Forsythe, but it is his passion for the sport of softball and teaching that keeps him going. That is also what landed Louisiana Tech in this weekend's NCAA Regional in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
"It's tough to do what he does," Montgomery said, "but his dedication is there because he loves it."
And his pitchers love him.
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