August 13, 2013 8:56:52 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
A change in approach is paying big dividends for Caitlin McLain at the plate.
As a result, McLain is in better spirits and the Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball team is feeding off one of its senior leaders.
McLain's transformation has everything to do with being aggressive.
"After the first game we played, my dad came up to me and told me he was watching me batting and said I was waiting until it was an 0-2 count and it is do or die," McLain said. "I feel the last couple of games I went up to the plate and wanted to hit. I am going up to the plate like I am going to smash the ball."
Two three-hit games prove McLain is on the right track. McLain's performances came in 12-2 and 17-4 victories against Starkville Academy and Kirk Academy that helped Heritage Academy improve to 3-3 prior to a 10-0 loss to Magnolia Heights on Monday.
For her accomplishments, McLain is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
McLain said her new approach has sparked her hitting and has helped her re-focus. She said she isn't preoccupied with trying to do what might be strategically best for the team but wants to do what she can to get on base and make things happen.
Heritage Academy coach Gary Harris said the change has enabled McLain to recover from a sub-.200 batting average in the team's first four games.
"She was hitting some balls hard at people," Harris said of McLain's at-bats in the first four games. "I moved her down in the lineup to the No. 6 or the No. 7 hole to take a little pressure off her and to help her see some better pitches. It has paid off. She had three hits vs. Starkville and she went 3-for-3 with five RBIs (against Kirk). She is really driving the ball hard. She is doing what I thought she was capable of doing from the beginning."
Kaitlyn Oswalt added two hits, and Macy Walters, Katlyn Petty, and McKenzie Bumgarner also had hits against Kirk Academy. In addition to McLain's five RBIs, Oswalt had three and Macy Nordquist and Bumgarner each had two. Oswalt struck out a season-high eight in the latest victory.
Harris, who is in his second season as coach, said McLain is maturing into a number of roles. Not only is she becoming a more disciplined hitter, she also is working in a new pitcher, Oswalt, a transfer from New Hope High School, a new assistant coach, Casey Finch, who calls the pitches, and is developing a better understanding of how best to be a leader.
Part of the final piece to that puzzle involves learning how to handle her emotions. McLain admits she is a "very emotional person" who isn't always able to disguise her frustration. As a result, she said she has seen her emotions affect the play of her teammates and her team. McLain realized at the beginning of the season she has to set a good example for the younger players because they look to her and classmates Katlyn Petty and Shiloh Ellis to set the tone.
"I have to make sure the girls know why I have been playing and why they should play," McLain said. "The seniors can't set a bad example because it will affect them.
"I think I have learned to be a good role model. When you're a senior, everybody is watching you, so sometimes you have to pretend you're in a good mood."
Attitude and staying positive is crucial, McLain said, because she feels the team plays so much better when everyone is up, energetic, and supporting each other. McLain credits Finch, a former assistant coach at East Mississippi Community College, for staying on the Lady Patriots and getting them to help each other and to stay focused on the game.
Harris said McLain continues to learn how to be a better leader. He said she was thrust into a position the team needed her to play and a new role on an inexperienced team and still shows she is capable of handling everything.
"She has taken the (new approach at the plate) to heart and is going up looking for the first pitch in one spot," Harris said. "I am proud of her. Friday night (against Kirk) she was very disciplined. The pitcher had a pretty good changeup and she held off of it a couple of times when she threw it on the first pitch. Maybe this time last year she might have been out on the front foot hitting that and getting herself out. But she was disciplined enough not to swing and to get a better pitch."
Harris hopes McLain and his seniors can play with the same attitude the rest of the way. With McLain, he knows it is important for her to play with emotion, but he doesn't want her to get too excited, or to do anything that takes away from what makes her special.
McLain said she just wants to stay positive. If she and her teammates can do that, she believes plenty of good things will happen.
"When everybody feels good, we play awesome," McLain said. "We had to get together as a senior class and get on the same page. We realize if we do this as soon as we are asked to do it they're going to do it like we're doing it, so we have to make sure we are on our game."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.