CLIFTON PARK — To say that the Shenendehowa softball team is on a power trip is not a disparaging remark — if you’re referring to the Plainsmen’s 27 home runs in 15 games this season from nine different batters.
Kelsey Higgins leads Shenendehowa (9-1 Suburban Council, 13-2 overall) with six home runs and Becca Zawistowski helped her own cause Thursday afternoon, hitting a two-run homer in the first inning and then proceeded to strike out 11 Shaker batters in a 6-0 non-league win.
“We definitely have several girls who have hit home runs, multiple home runs throughout our line-up,” Shenendehowa coach Chris Farquharson said. “It’s good to see a little power and you just never know, if you’re going to groove a pitch they have the power, the strength to hit it out.”
With Higgins sidelined with a sprained ankle, Zawistowski is the leading long ball threat with five on the year followed by Heather Junjulas, Jada Lambright and McKenna Barry with three home runs each.
Farquharson didn’t craft this year’s line-up to mirror the New York Yankees and rely on home runs to win games.
“They’re definitely swinging aggressively, we talked about increasing our bat speed to increase our exit velocity off the bat,” Farquharson said. “We’ve been working on quickening our hands, but the girls have some solid strength in their swing and barreling the ball up.”
The Plainsmen line-up is not sitting on a pitch and swinging for the fences.
“They’re not like towering fly balls, McKenna [Barry], Becca [Zawistowski], Kelsey [Higgins], they’re hitting it on a line and they’re going out,” Farquharson said. “It turns into a line drive that just keeps going.”
For Shenendehowa’s top two sluggers, both juniors, last year’s lost spring season due to novel coronavirus guidelines turned into a positive.
“Tee work and the mental break was huge for me,” Higgins said. “Playing softball constantly can get exhausting mentally after a while, having that break to regroup, chill and take some swings off the tee really helped me a lot.”
Zawistowski too kept her skills sharp during the extended off-seasons.
“I stuck to my routine of having a pitching lesson every week with hitting and I did tee work,” Zawistowski said. “I just tried to stick to a little routine, not trying to do too much, but doing enough to keep myself in check.”
She was especially sharp on Thursday, striking out 11 batters on her way to the shutout of Shaker.
“My change-up was really effective and my rise ball that was really working today,” Zawistowski said.
Both long-ball experts said their plate confidence has increased this year.
“Coach [Farquharson] lets everyone have their own swing and he’ll just tweak something every now and then, it really helps us,” Zawistowski said. “We all have our own swing, so we’re comfortable with how we’re hitting, so we hit the pitches we like.”
The energy emanating from the Plainsmen dugout makes every batter feel unbeatable at the plate.
“I’ve never hit a home run in school ball, I’ve been doing this for a few years now,” Higgins said. “A lot of times I’m nervous when I’m up at-bat, but just having them in the dugout cheering for me it’s really comforting.”
For opposing pitchers, the current murder’s row of Shenendehowa sluggers should make them nervous.
“Your mental game changes, you can’t take any pitches off with a group like us,” Zawistowski said. “You spot your pitches a lot more and you make sure they’re spinning exactly perfect, it’s a lot more pressure than it normally would be.”
The rarity has become a norm for the Plainsmen — and they have no plans of changing that.
“It’s a lot of hard work, a lot of batting practice,” Farquharson said. “I love the long ball, but we talk more about squaring the ball up and if it goes, it goes.”
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