August 20, 2013 10:25:30 AM
A little bit of confidence is paying dividends for Brooklyn Waldrep.
Only a sophomore, the second baseman/catcher is maturing into a consistent performer for the Heritage Academy fast-pitch softball team.
Last week, Waldrep pushed her batting average to .455 with a solid set of performances that led the Lady Patriots to three victories and a strong showing against two-time defending state champion Copiah Academy.
For her accomplishments, Waldrep is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Waldrep went 1-for-2 in a 4-2 victory against Central Academy. She was 1-for-3 with two runs scored, a walk, and a stolen base in an 8-4 victory against Calhoun, the team's first game at the College Exposure tournament last weekend at the Starkville Sportsplex. In game two of the event, Waldrep was 2-for-3 with a run scored and three RBIs in an 8-4 victory against Pillow Academy. She had two walks and a sacrifice in three at-bats in an 11-3 loss to Copiah Academy.
Even though Heritage Academy lost to Madison-Ridgeland Academy on Monday, Waldrep continued to make strides, playing in the infield in the varsity game and then playing catcher in the junior varsity game.
Heritage Academy coach Gary Harris hopes to work Waldrep in at catcher to help her get more comfortable. The plan could pay off next year is Waldrep fills the void left by senior catcher Caitlin McLain. For now, though, Harris likes what dimensions Waldrep has added to the team.
"She has improved from an understanding point of view," Harris said. "Last year, I think she was kind of learning. She was always a good softball player, a knowledgeable softball player. Now I think she is starting to get a greater appreciation for the little nuances of the game she maybe didn't quite have before. She is not afraid to become more of a leader and vocally be a better leader. She is really starting to understand her role as far as that is concerned."
Waldrep said she caught for the first time in her career two weeks ago. She said she was surprised how much she has grown to enjoy playing catcher. She also has realized how much playing the position can help other parts of her game, especially hitting.
"It helps me see the pitches and know more about the pitching," Waldrep said.
Waldrep's time with the Tupelo Express travel softball team also has enhanced her skills. She said she and Heritage Academy teammate Kaitlyn Oswalt were members of the 14-and-under team and were moved up to the 16-U squad. She said the experience playing with kids her age has given her the confidence to know she can contribute.
"It is a good place to get your fundamentals back," Waldrep said of travel softball. "You are never good enough. You always want to get better. You are always getting into bad habits and doing other things, but the more you keep playing the better you will get."
Harris has seen Waldrep improve since the beginning of the season. He recently moved her from the No. 2 spot in the order -- where she was called on to move runners --to the lead-off spot -- where she is asked to set the table for the offense.
"Her on-base percentage is the best on the team, she has a great eye, she has the most walks, she rarely strikes out," Harris said. "She just does so much to get us going."
Hitting at the top of the order is a bigger responsibility, especially when she doesn't get to see pitches before she gets to the plate, but she is excited about the challenge.
"I used to get real nervous when I went up to bat, but now I just go up there and just watch the ball," Waldrep said. "I used to get real nervous, but now I am more comfortable and feeling better when I am up there playing more games and more ball."
Waldrep said the added experience in the offseason and in the summer has helped her understand one of the keys to playing softball: Having fun. She credited Harris and assistant coach Casey Finch for helping the Lady Patriots learn in a fun environment.
Waldrep hopes she can continue to be the spark that gets Heritage Academy going. It doesn't matter if it is from second base or at catcher because she knows she has so much more work to do on her game and plenty of time to make it happen.
"I really feel like the more you play and the more you practice the better you will get," Waldrep said. "I do feel like there is more. I want to get more information from coaches, and I do feel like there is more out there and I want to go and experience it."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.