June 19, 2010 10:52:00 PM
Freshmen are lucky to have an impact in a game, much less a season.
But not every freshman is built the same way. Some surprise and become the team''s best player.
Meet Lauren Holifield.
The New Hope High School freshman wasn''t a revelation this season, as she starred for Tabitha Beard''s program as an eighth-grader. However, there''s no denying the rarity in Holifield''s ascent to being named The Dispatch''s 2010 All-Area Large Schools Player of the Year.
If not for teammate D.J. Sanders'' brilliance this season as a hard-throwing eighth-grader, Holifield''s work in the circle and at the plate would have marveled New Hope fans even more.
Holifield went 10-4 in the circle with 54 strikeouts and only 13 walks with a seven-pitch arsenal that complemented Sanders'' velocity.
When Holifield wasn''t pitching, she sported a .987 fielding percentage at third base. At the plate, Holifield led the team with a .443 batting average, 22 RBIs, seven doubles, three triples, and a pair of home runs.
Having spent most of her life playing softball, Holifield hasn''t been surprised by her progress, but she admits being named the area''s top player is a shock.
"It is very unexpected," Holifield said. "The switch with D.J. from pitching to third base really opened up a lot for me. We lost our senior third baseman (Kristen Harvey), so it worked out."
The Lady Trojans went 22-7 this season and advanced to the second round of the playoffs with just one senior. Holifield looks forward to the three remaining seasons she has at New Hope High after a breakout freshman year.
Holifield has been tutored by coaches, including Connie Sharp, her mother and New Hope High assistant coach, since she started playing. Her sister, former New Hope player Tori Harris, also has helped her development.
"When Tori was playing, we''d always go up and hit," Holifield said. "When I was doing something wrong, staying late and working on it was the only way to get better. That''s something I learned from my family. Me and my mom have a really close relationship, too. Other players don''t have a parent who is that into the game."
Holifield credits her mother with helping her develop her pitching repertoire, which includes a fastball, changeup, drop-curve, hybrid riseball, trick pitch, slingshot pitch, and slingshot changeup.
"I''m confident in all of those, too," Holifield said.
Never was that more evident than the playoff series against Hernando, Beard said. "When Hernando was hitting D.J. well, Lauren was able to keep them off," Beard said. "They really balanced each other well. She''s got a great offspeed pitch and works really hard going through her pitching lessons."
When she was 6, Holifield began pitching by working on wrist snaps and windmill fundamentals. Watching other hurlers gave her ideas of what pitches she''d like to add. That''s when she turned to her mom.
"I''d say, ''Mom, what''s this?'' " Holifield said. "She''d correct what I was doing wrong and we''d perfect it. She played the game, so who better to have teaching you growing up?"
Entering the season, Beard knew Holifield was poised for a breakout with the emergence of Sanders. She was confident, too, in Holifield''s work ethic and ability to carry a load not typical for a freshman.
"Lauren is the type of athlete that''s going to be in the starting lineup regardless," Beard said. "She was put in a weird situation this season splitting time at third base, but I knew her quick hands and great glove would make her a great third baseman.
"She''s a player that when she''s up to the plate you know something good is going to happen. She''s going to move a runner, even if she doesn''t get in. She wants to be in the box in every situation."
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