‘Fortunate to be at Fairfield’ — Stieger gets 500th career coaching victory

FAIRFIELD — Brenda Stieger never pictured herself in the situation.  

Not as a Fairfield High School softball player. Not even when she took over the program 27 years ago. 

But the longtime Indians coach did take the time to relish in the moment Thursday evening at Creekside Middle School.

Fairfield rallied from a three-run deficit against Greater Miami Conference rival Lakota East to capture a 5-4 victory, giving Stieger her 500th career coaching win.

“I never started out thinking that I was going to get here,” said Stieger, who becomes just the 20th softball coach in Ohio High School Athletic Association history to reach the 500-win mark. 

“You never start out thinking you’re going to meet milestones,” Stieger added. “But when you get there, it’s a great feeling. 

“I didn’t even know that our girls were thinking about this. I really didn’t. For them to fight back like they did, it’s so special.” 

Indians sophomore Megan Spence took over the pitching duties in the third inning when the Thunderhawks owned a 4-1 lead. 

Spence, who had just come off a decent performance in the circle in a 3-2 win over Mason on Tuesday, knew what was on the line. 

She delivered. 

Spence shut out the Thunderhawks the rest of the way, and the Indians scored four unanswered runs to secure the win for their coach. 

“It felt really good to get this one for her,” Spence said. “She deserves it. We tried not to focus on that specifically, but we tried to focus on winning for her.” 

Second-year Lakota East coach Kelley Haiber said his squad also understood the circumstances surrounding Thursday’s game. 

“Everyone was nervous. I think everyone knew what kind of a game this was. Brenda is a legend,” Haiber said before joking. “I did want to make it go one more day. She can get it against somebody else. Brenda’s been around a little longer than I have. I felt like they were a little more confident in what they could do.” 

Thursday’s win gave Stieger a 500-183 record and the Indians (5-1) a four-game winning streak. 

“I didn’t even talk to them about this,” Stieger said. “It’s not been something that we’ve made a big deal about because we’re just trying to climb up in the GMC. We just really want to be on that top line. It was another game that I’m just thinking that we have to win.”

‘Right place, right time’ 

Stieger played for Fairfield under the program’s first-ever coach, Monica Mitter.  

Stieger went on to graduate from Fairfield in 1983 and attended Alice Lloyd College in Kentucky, where she was coached by her father Jerome Stieger. 

“I got a lot of my ethics, determination from my dad,” Stieger said. “My dad has always been my teacher — my professor.” 

Her senior year at Alice Lloyd, she was named Most Valuable Softball Player in 1987. 

And less than a decade later, Stieger started coaching the Fairfield varsity softball team in 1996 after a brief stint as the junior varsity coach. 

“Sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time,” said Stieger, who has been a teacher within the Fairfield school district since 1994. “When you’re offered something that you think would be a good opportunity, you go with it.” 

Stieger was inducted into the Butler County Softball Hall of Honor in 2015 and is the winningest coach in Fairfield softball history. The Indians have won four GMC titles and three regional runners-up under her watch. 

“I didn’t start out great. We weren’t always winning here,” Stieger recalled. “But I inherited a great program that was already in a winning position. The job then was the pressure to stay on top.” 

And the Indians have. 

Stieger has helped more than 40 girls from her teams go on to play softball at the collegiate level. 

That includes 2001 Fairfield graduate Emily Breitholle, who is now an assistant coach to Stieger.

“Getting to work with so many kids — talented kids — and how important it was in the Fairfield community with those kids made it an easy start for me,” Stieger said. “It was nothing I developed. They were Fairfield kids. Just being able to have the chance to keep the program where it was supposed to be has been special. We’ve had some great players come through.”

Fairfield athletic director Aaron Blankenship expressed the impact Stieger has had made with the not just Indians softball, but the school community as well.

“Not only is this a monumental milestone for Coach Stieger, it truly is a historic moment for Fairfield athletics,” Blankenship said. “Coach Stieger has been a staple in our community and a pioneer for female coaches in southwest Ohio. Her impact on our community, especially our female student-athletes is simply immeasurable.”

‘Evolving as a coach’ 

Some of Stieger’s former players who came to watch on Thursday stayed around and mingled on the field along the third base line. 

Many even joked. 

“You would have yelled much more at us,” one of them told Stieger.  

“I’ve calmed down a lot because I feel like it’s more of a teaching thing now as opposed to a demanding way of coaching,” Stieger chimed in. “I’ve found that it’s more about teaching the game and remaining more calm. They simply respond better. That’s been the biggest change for me.” 

Stieger credited a lot of her coaching success to her husband, Bill Stewart, who coached the Indians from 1983-1992. 

“Some of it comes from him, too,” she said. “And some of that comes from experience and recognizing how to get the kids to believe that they are as good as they are. 

“That’s what I think is the most challenging at times,” Stieger added. “They all keep shooting for whoever is at the top in the league — or they think they have to beat every team. We started changing that mindset to, ‘No. They have to beat us.’ 

“I guess that’s how I evolved as a coach.” 

But the players Stieger has coached — and is currently coaching — are the ones who have helped shape her as a mentor, she said. 

“To have been able to coach such great women — they’re right behind me now,” Stieger said. “Wow. That they would be here. So many relationships that I’ve had — bringing all of them together. That’s what this is about.  

“I’m so fortunate to have been at Fairfield — the only place,” Stieger added. “I get to coach here, and I get to meet so many wonderful women. That’s the best part of this.

“I don’t know how much more coaching I’ve got in me,” Stieger continued. “You get tired of being cold, your back starts hurting a little bit more and your knees crunch when you start to move. Plus, I don’t want to miss a lot of my grandchildren growing up. 

“But as long as I feel like I’m making a difference, and the girls want me around, I’ll still be here.” 

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