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Softball: Grenoble has big spikes to fill as Missiles' new coach

(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Eastland graduate and former pitching dynamo Sarah Spears (left) recently stepped down as Milledgeville's coach after having her third child. Milledgeville graduate and Sauk Valley Predators owner Brad Grenoble (right) is excited to take the reins of a team that placed third at state last season.

This isn’t Brad Grenoble’s first rodeo. But then, these aren’t the Johnston City Indians, circa 2008.

About 2 weeks ago, the longtime coach and owner of the Sauk Valley Predators was named head softball coach of the Milledgeville Missiles. He takes the reins from former Eastland High School and DePaul University star Sarah Spears, who guided the Missiles to third place at state last spring.

It’s quite the stark contrast from when Grenoble, a born salesman, took over a one-win Johnston City boys basketball team in 2008 and gave their fans a 300-percent return on investment with three wins, according to ihsa.org.

“I’m not gonna lie; it makes you a little nervous, considering how far we went last year,” Grenoble said. “I guarantee it was a super-tough decision for [Sarah]. Most coaches step down when they don’t have a lot coming back.”

Spears, who posted a 48-17 in two seasons as the Missiles’ skipper and teaches at Eastland, had her third child in November.

“We finally had our girl, Kyndall,” said Spears, who also has two sons, Payton, 6, and Maddox, who is about to turn 4.

“It was an incredibly tough decision,” she said. “It’s not only the fact that [the returning players] are very good. It’s the fact that some of those girls I’ve coached since they were freshman. You grow attached to them and see them progress throughout their career.”

Grenoble, who also coached under Rick Lincoln during the Polo-Milledgeville co-op days, coached the fresh-soph Missiles last season and chipped in as a varsity assistant during last year’s postseason run.

“Brad’s going to do a great job,” Spears said. “I think very highly of him.”

Grenoble aims to replicate the way Spears ran her practices, keeping players active by setting up stations. But perhaps the most notable attribute he hopes to carry over was one he also picked up from Lincoln: the ability to stay even-keel, never getting too high or too low.

Spears says that quality came from her pitching days, during which she racked up 103 high-school victories, tied for the most in IHSA history.

“You don’t want the batter to know whether you’re throwing your best, or if you’re having your worst day,” Spears said.

There appear to be a lot of good days ahead for the Missiles, who return the bulk of last year’s team, including all-state pitcher Emily Bush.

Grenoble faces a unique obstacle, in terms of managing personnel. After breaking her left hand during the hoops season, his daughter, Taylor, will get her cast off next week. While she should be ready to roll when practices begin Feb. 25, her dad is urging her to be honest.

“She’s such a tough kid, and she’s always wiling to suck it up,” Grenoble said. “I told her, she’s gotta be honest with me. You’re going to lose early games. What matters most is the postseason.

“I won’t have her hit off Bush right away, that’s for sure.”

If you’re wondering where Grenoble, whose Predators’ second season will begin shortly after softball practice commences, will find the time, that question might be best directed to his best friend.

His wife and co-owner of the Preds, Leah, takes on the bulk of the heavy lifting once the Premier Basketball League season opens. By then, Grenoble will have his roster assembled and corporate partners in place.

“She actually told me to go do it,” he said. “She knows it’s been my dream for a long time.”

“Brad loves coaching, and no matter what it is, and he loves teaching,” Leah said. “It really was an easy decision. Challenges are a big thing in our household.”

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