High School softball: Hummel, Grace power Firebirds to strong start

Belle Hummel, Lakota West softball
Belle Hummel, Lakota West softball

Like many other baseball and softball teams in Ohio, Lakota West’s girls softball team played on Saturday a game for which they’d waited more than a year.

It’s difficult to imagine any team taking more advantage of the opportunity.

Junior Molly Grace went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run and three runs batted in and classmate Belle Hummel went 3-for-4 as the Firebirds rocked Vandalia Butler, 18-1, in the seasonopener for both teams.

“We were very excited,” said Hummel, who plays center field.

Saturday’s game was Lakota West’s first since losing, 2-1, to intra-district rival Lakota East in a 2019 Division I regional final, a year after the Firebirds reached the state championship game. COVID-19 wiped out the entire 2020 season, and it’s difficult to tell whether the Firebirds were itching to make up for lost time, take a second shot at a missed opportunity – or both.

“I think after not getting to play last year, we realized what we missed, and that got us motivated,” Hummel said.

“We hit the ball pretty well,” Lakota West Keith Castner said. “We played well on all cylinders, but it was just one game on our schedule.”

The challenge facing Castner and his coaches and most likely the coaches of every spring sports team in Ohio is harnessing that energy and making sure the players don’t try to do too much too quickly – try to play two seasons in one.

Molly Grace, Lakota West softball
Molly Grace, Lakota West softball

“They have to understand that we have 26 more games and then the tournament,” Castner said. “We have to make sure that we keep them level-headed. We want them to keep that chip on their shoulders. We tell them to play hard and play with class. We tell them to remember that, even like today at practice, you don’t get these days back.”

The left-handed hitting Hummel was named first-team All-GMC as a freshman after hitting .494 and leading Lakota West with 43 hits and 18 RBIs. She also tied for the conference lead with 24 stolen bases.

Pandemic restrictions eased up enough to allow her to compete with her summer team and she spent the off-season working on building up her strength.

Hummel, who’s committed to Ohio University and is planning to major in sports medicine, also decided that, once play resumed, she needed to be more of a vocal leader for the Firebirds.

“I feel like, when I was younger, I let other people do the leading,” she said.

Castner is not sure Hummel has to change at all.

“I think it’s OK to not be a vocal leader,” he said. “Her actions speak for everything. She’s OK letting her actions speak for her.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Katie Pearson, Middletown: The senior catcher was 6-for-8 with five RBIs in the Middies first two games after leading the Middies with 29 RBIs and hitting .407 in 2019.

Ashley Shelton, Ross: The senior went 2-for-4 with a double and two RBIs in Ross’s 11-8 season-opening win over Badin on Saturday. She finished second in the Southwest Ohio Conference with a .543 average in 2019 and was first-team all-league.

Emma Kent, Badin: The senior Thomas More signee has batted a combined .370 with 50 RBIs and is 18-12 with a 2.47 ERA over two varsity seasons.

Breiley Proffitt, Fairfield: The junior scored 19 runs and piled up 10 stolen bases for the 2019 district runner up team.

Briahna Bush, Cincinnati Christian: As a sophomore, Bush led the MVC with 20 wins and 292 strikeouts (292) and was named the Scarlet Division pitcher of the year. She picked up right where she left off in the Cougars first two games this season, racking up 30 strikeouts and a 0.58 earned-run average while Cincinnati Christian was going 2-0.

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