Tigers head to playoffs following their Shepherd|Crafty pitcher key to team’s success

Published 9:00 pm Thursday, June 3, 2010

Sports Writer

WILLIAMSTON — Packed with dizzying array of pitches, Harris Shepherd has sent plenty of batters back to the dugout muttering, so in a way it’s only fitting that the Tigers’ senior hurler will pursue a career in speech therapy upon graduation.
Maybe in college she will be able to help would-be hitters properly display their frustration after they bounce out to short or hit a meager fly to first.
Shepherd doesn’t come equipped with an overpowering fastball, but it’s deceptively quick when it’s matched up with her knuckle-change or one her two deadly curveballs.
There are plenty of reasons why the scrappy second-seeded Tigers (19-7), who will face No. 1 Midway (20-6) for the East Region championship on Friday, are one of only four 1-A softball teams that will be battling for a state title this weekend at Walnut Creek, but the play of Shepherd is without a doubt one of the biggest.
Williamston coach Damon Hayes said that aside from her physical abilities, her leadership, along with fellow seniors Cassie Harrell and Heather Jackson, has been vital to the success of the team.
“I just can’t say enough about her and the other seniors on this team,” Hayes said. “It’s just the way they lead this team. I’m not out on the field, they are. They just do such a good job.”
Harrell, the second baseman, and Jackson, the shortstop, are viewed upon as more of the vocal leaders of the team, while Shepherd tends to be more understated
“Sometimes she will come out and say a few words,” Hayes said. “But mostly she just leads by example.”
During her senior season Harris has made an example out of the batters that step into the box to face her.
So far this season she has compiled a 14-7 record with a 1.52 ERA. In 138 innings pitches Shepherd has issued just 12 walks.
So far this postseason Harris has also led her team to victories over previous playoff roadblocks and area powerhouses Jamesville in the District Round of the playoffs as well as Southside in the Sectional Round.
Shepherd doesn’t over power hitters the way former area pitcher fastball phenom Charity Watson did, but instead she used her tremendous ability to locate anyone of her array of pitches.
“I throw a fastball, change-up, curveball, drop ball, screwball and a rise ball,” Shepherd said. “I don’t always throw all of them during the game, but the curveball is probably my favorite.”
Aside from having pitches with good movement, what makes it so hard for betters to get the sweet part of the bat on the ball is her ability to locate her throws.
“When she hits her targets, if she keeps the ball low she is very, very hard to hit,” Hayes said. “When you can throw a curveball in, the comeback with a change-up inside; that’s really difficult to hit. That’s what she is so good at, locating her pitches.”
Shepherd’s ability to spot her throws makes a for a deadly combination when mixed with an excellent fielding team that sports WDN all-area selections Jackson and Harrell up the middle, who are backed by freshman sensation Dasia Moore in center field.
“With her on the mound we are great defensively, and that’s what you look for,” Hayes said. “This year it has just synced up well, especially with (sophomore first baseman) Kellen Edwards and (sophomore third baseman) Courtney Wynn on the corners.
“Last year I was looking for more strikeouts, but this year we can put the ball in play,” Hayes said.
Shepherd is quick to credit the rise of Wynn and Edwards, along with freshman catcher Rachel Baker, for the Tigers success. The senior pitcher said the growth of her teammates caught her by surprise.
“Honestly, in the beginning of the year I did not expect us to be here,” Shepherd said. “We have seven freshman, basketball went to the state championship game, we didn’t have a lot of girls and we were 0-4. In the beginning of the season things just weren’t looking to positive. … But we just have great athletes on this team and girls that understand that you have to play together.”