Prep softball: Miller powering Fenwick’s gradual rise on the diamond

Fenwick catcher Claudia Miller has to stretch for a high pitch April 12 during an 11-0 loss to visiting McNicholas in Greater Catholic League Coed Division softball action. RICK CASSANO/STAFF
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Fenwick catcher Claudia Miller has to stretch for a high pitch April 12 during an 11-0 loss to visiting McNicholas in Greater Catholic League Coed Division softball action. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

MIDDLETOWN — Claudia Miller can recall a time when the sport of softball didn’t cause much of a ripple at Fenwick High School.

She can remember clearly because it was just a few short years ago. But the interest level is clearly on the rise.

“It’s gotten a lot better for sure,” said Miller, a senior catcher and four-year starter. “We’ve gotten a lot more respect around the school. People actually ask about how the softball team’s doing. That never used to happen.”

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The Falcons are in the midst of trying to win their second straight Greater Catholic League Coed North Division championship and have several of the GCL Coed’s best players.

Fifth-year coach George Moore said Fenwick hasn’t reached elite status yet, but at least there is movement in that direction.

“I think we’re a pretty quality team,” Moore said. “We’re not a great team that can afford letdowns mental or physical, so we’ve got to stay steady and focused. I think we can compete with most anyone on any given day as long as we don’t get in our own way.”

The Falcons are 14-6 overall and sit atop the North standings with a 7-2 mark. They have a big league week ahead — at Carroll on Monday, Carroll at home Tuesday, at Badin on Wednesday and Badin at home on Friday.

Fenwick still has to reschedule a game with Alter, which is currently second in the North at 5-3.

“We’re a fun-loving group,” Moore said. “You can see the girls enjoy playing and we’re at our best when we’re loose and having fun, so that’s the goal every day.”

Miller has the hottest bat on a team that can hit. She’s got a .551 batting average with nine doubles, two triples, a home run and 13 RBIs.

Four other Falcons are .400 hitters — junior third baseman/pitcher Haylee Hook (.466), junior shortstop Abby Gustely (.458), junior third baseman/pitcher Rachel Berling (.415) and senior first baseman Annabelle Thomas (.400).

Fenwick also has a pretty solid tandem in the circle with Berling (9-2, 2.40 earned run average, 85 strikeouts in 61.1 innings) and Hook (5-4, 4.56 ERA, 72 strikeouts in 50.2 innings).

Miller, Thomas and outfielder Emily Moore are the team’s only three seniors.

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Fenwick High School senior Claudia Miller

Fenwick High School senior Claudia Miller
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Fenwick High School senior Claudia Miller

“We’ve bonded so much this year. We bring that to the field and it helps us work together,” Miller said. “I was really hoping for that this year. I wasn’t sure it would happen … there’s a couple new players, and you never really know. The three seniors are the captains and our goal was to try to be drama-free, which we have been for the most part. It’s been awesome.”

Thomas (96) and Gustely (95) are both nearing the 100-hit mark for their careers, and Berling already has the career strikeout record with 263.

Miller has been especially aggressive at moving up the career lists. She’s third in hits with 121 — trailing only Emily Faucheux (122) and Alicia Hansen (189) — and second in runs with 94 (also behind Hansen, who has 156).

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Miller said of her statistical quest. “I feel like I’ve improved a lot since freshman year. I think I’m a lot more consistent at the plate.

“I didn’t expect this. I’m real glad that it happened. I’m just surprised I was able to come so far. I’m excited about it.”

Miller has also been a starting third baseman and outfielder during her Fenwick career. George Moore said a play she made against Badin as a freshman third baseman sticks out in his mind.

“There’s a ball rocketed right over her head in a close game,” he recalled. “Out of nowhere she yanks that ball out of midair and throws it to second for a double play. I think that was a huge defining moment for her. She’s made those kind of plays regardless of what position she’s been at.

“She is the type of leader that our softball program needs. She is a no-nonsense kind of player, but she’s got a great personality and likes to have fun. Passion exudes from everything that she’s doing, and the girls around her feed off of that. The kind of respect that she commands as a leader is pretty unmistakable.”

Miller said the outfield is her favorite position, though she likes the authority that comes with being a catcher. She’ll be playing with the Ohio Hawks this summer, then turning her focus away from softball.

Moore said she’s had considerable collegiate interest, but Miller is planning to just be a student and study pharmacy at the next level.

“It was a hard decision, but it’s time,” she said. “I’m planning on going to a bigger school, so it’s a lot harder to play softball. Having a pharmacy major and playing softball would’ve been impossible, so I just decided to focus on school. I’m trying to convince my parents to let me go to the University of Illinois at Chicago. We’ll see.”

For now, her goal is to get Fenwick another league championship — “It would be cool to see the 19 up the banner my senior year” — and make some noise in the Division II postseason.

Miller said her effort on the diamond won’t change, even with her career about to come to an end.

“I really love to dive,” she said. “I love getting on the ground and going to get the ball, and I always try to stay hyped and keep everyone cheering and excited during games.”

Moore said Miller and Thomas are both college-worthy players, but Thomas won’t be playing at the next level either. She’ll be focusing on academics at Ohio State.

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