April 22, 2009
Adam Minichino - email@example.com
MABEN -- A clean uniform just doesn''t feel right to Swayze Hollenhead.
The East Webster High School fast-pitch softball standout considers it a badge of honor if she can soil her school colors with a dive to knock down a line drive or a slide into second base to beat a throw.
If you have seen the sophomore third baseman play, you know she''s apt to have several layers of the infield on her uniform by the end of a game.
Each day, though, Hollenhead washes that dirt from her clothes and returns to practice and games to do it all over again.
Her grittiness and focus have played a key role in helping East Webster stay on course to win its fourth Class 1A state title in a row.
Hollenhead and East Webster (24-7) will try to take the next step Thursday when they travel to Bogue Chitto for game one of their best-of-three state playoff series.
"When I am not dirty I feel too clean and I don''t like it," Hollenhead said. "I like getting dirty, at least sliding. I have to get some kind of dirty."
Hollenhead''s attitude is one of a gym rat who is constantly working at her craft. While others might be reluctant to invest the time and energy to improve, Hollenhead prefers to put her nose in the middle of the action and throw her body into the fray.
She said she learned that approach from her father, Scott, who encouraged her to do her best at whatever she does. She also learned a lot from her travel ball teammates.
"My dad said, ''You know what to do when you''re out there, just do it and play hard. If you make a mistake shake it off,'' " Hollenhead said. "It is fine if you don''t get dirty, but I like getting dirty because it looks like you''re getting in there and trying to do something. My dad helped me out a lot. He is always pushing me to go harder."
Despite her hard-charging ways, Hollenhead doesn''t feel she plays differently than other third basemen.
East Webster coach Bill Brand would disagree.
"I think she will consider gritty a compliment," Brand said. "She is going to give you as much as she has got to give you on every play. She has a knack a lot of kids don''t have, especially a lot of girls."
Brand said Hollenhead played a key role Saturday in East Webster''s victories at Stringer that helped it keep its season alive. Hollenhead caught a foul ball up against the screen that Brand said a lot of players would have pulled off of. He said Hollenhead also has gone into the dugout several times this season to catch popups.
Simply put, Brand said Hollenhead provides plenty of defensive plays worthy of attention on ESPN''s Plays of the Day.
"She saves a lot of runs for us," Brand said.
Hollenhead played second base as a seventh-grader, shortstop as an eighth-grader, and has spent the past two seasons at third base. In fast-pitch softball the position is more than "hot" because that player has to be quick enough to charge in and to make plays on bunts and slaps and have reactions that are quick enough to snare line drives.
Hollenhead feels she has "gotten decent" at playing third base. She said she was "shy" on the field as a seventh-grader because she wasn''t sure she belonged.
Now, though, she feels right at home, more connected to her teammates, and believes she has key ingredients to contribute to the team''s success.
"(Third base) is a place you have to learn quick. If you don''t learn quick you''re going to get hurt," Hollenhead said.
Brand said Hollenhead''s focus allows her to be aware of situations and to read hitters to get a jump on bunts, slaps, and line drives. He said she balances her passion for getting involved with the action with a love for her teammates that has earned her the respect of everyone on the team.
"She is as tender hearted as anybody you will find," Brand said. "She is a unique individual who has a lot of softball talent."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.