Clay’s Honnah Susor steals third base as Notre Dame’s Nikki Wilkins awaits the throw. Susor, a junior, leads the Eagles with a .603 batting average. Clay is 21-2 overall and 11-1 in the TRAC.
THE BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
Many baseball experts proclaim Ted Williams as the game’s greatest all-time hitter.
Anyone who ever read Williams’ book The Science of Hitting would know that few players ever studied that skill more than the Boston Red Sox Hall of Famer.
As the Clay Eagles, Ohio’s eighth-ranked Division I softball team, take aim at clinching the Three Rivers Athletic Conference championship, coach Brenda Radabaugh knows her team’s focus on its own science of hitting is largely responsible for its success.
With a win Tuesday over Lima Senior, Clay moved to 21-2 overall and 11-1 in the TRAC. The Eagles need a win today against Whitmer to secure the conference championship.
At the start of the week the Eagles were batting an impressive .406 as a team, which just happens to be the mark Williams finished with in 1941 when he became the last major league baseball player to hit .400 in a season.
“That’s our highest team average ever,” said Radabaugh, who is in her 13th season at Clay. “We have some good athletes on the team and we worked a lot on hitting in the off season.”
With the help of new assistant coach Mollie Berry, the Eagles have made a science out of the art of hitting.
Berry starred as an outfielder for Clay from 2004-07, three times earning All-City League first-team honors before playing four years at Wright State University, where she compiled a .329 batting average.
When Radabaugh added her former standout player to the coaching staff this season, she had a specific task in mind.
“When I first talked to Mollie about being an assistant coach I said, ‘I really think our kids can hit better than what they’ve shown in the past. I want you to focus on hitting,’ ” Radabaugh said. “She has done an outstanding job with it.
“She has taken each kid individually and broken down their swing. They look at where the weakness is, and then focus on individual drills to fix that weakness. Our hitting has improved all the way around — for average and for power.”
Nine Clay players have batting averages of .300 or higher, a list topped by junior center fielder and leadoff hitter Honnah Susor, who is ripping the ball at a .603 clip (44 for 73) with three home runs, 17 RBIs, 39 runs scored, and 23 steals in 25 attempts.
“I didn’t think I would ever do this well,” Susor said. “Last year I hit in the .380s. I have worked on my swing a lot.”
The Eagles’ ace pitcher, junior right-hander Brooke Gallaher, is next on the hit list. Batting third, Gallaher is hitting .507 (38 for 75) with a team-high 28 RBIs.
“It takes the pressure off of me when I’m pitching,” Gallaher said of her offensive support. “I feel a lot more confident this year than last year.
“It’s great because, when we’re down, we know we can come back and win the game.”
In the pitching circle, Gallaher is 12-1 with a 1.12 ERA and 96 strikeouts in 81 innings.
“We record [the players’ swings] with an iPad, and then you can go frame-by-frame and look at their technique,” Radabaugh said of the hitting instruction. “We’ve added some technology this year, and I give a lot of credit to Mollie.
“In past years, we might have gone a whole season with just four home runs. This year we have 13, and we have eight different kids who have hit at least one over the fence. In one game we had four. We’ve never had a team hit above .350, and normally we’re happy to hit over .300 as a team.”
The third leading hitter, sophomore third baseman Hayley Schiavone (.484, 2 HR, 14 RBIs), has been out with an injury for three weeks.
Her absence has not affected the offensive attack much, as Clay’s depth has wreaked havoc on opposing pitchers.
Freshman left fielder Haley Dominique (.432), senior catcher Emily Novak (.425), and junior shortstop Harleigh Isbell (.415) are also hitting above .400.
“It used to be just the batters at the top of the lineup, but now it’s everybody in our lineup contributing,” Novak said. “You know, even at the bottom of the lineup, you can get on base and help out.
“Coach Berry has been a huge help. She teaches us new things, and has given us some fresh eyes on our batting. That has helped a lot.”
Other Clay hitters above .300 include sophomore designated player Jamie Miller (.386, 3 home runs, 26 RBIs), senior second baseman Lindsay Schiavone (.314, 21 RBIs), and sophomore right fielder Brooke Gyori (.302).
OBJECTf7969627-7c18-4a34-8e3d-2958d5e78e3c“Our hitting has gotten us out of holes in a lot of games,” Lindsay Schiavone said. “We’ve come from behind and ended up winning some games. Even if we’re down we know we have a chance to come back.”
Rounding out the regular lineup are senior first baseman Hanna Cowell, junior No. 2 pitcher Danielle Lorenzen (8-1 with a 1.78 ERA), and senior third baseman Tessa Rice, who has been utilized as the flex player.
“It’s nice because you can always count on someone getting a hit and moving the runners over,” Susor said. “It’s built our confidence up a lot.
“Everybody has little issues with their swing, and coach Berry knows how to fix it. She’s been where we are now, and she’s played college ball. Everything that she knows, she’s teaching us.”
Clay had outscored its opposition 199-47, an average of 9-2 per game. This potent offense has led to a positive overall outlook.
“We’ve had really good team chemistry this year,” Radabaugh said. “The kids all get along well, We haven’t had any drama at all.
“They’re friends on and off the field. This team has jelled very well."
Radabaugh, who previously spent nine seasons as coach at Central Catholic, has 410 career wins.
“I’ve been pleased with our hitting from top to bottom in the order," she said. "We’ve produced runs throughout the order. I’ve also been very pleased with pitching, so the kids have done well in a lot of areas this year.”