Harris’ hitting benefitting from less pressure

Published 1:03 pm Sunday, May 14, 2017

This time last year, Washington was en route to its best playoff run in program history. The Lady Pack, after decimating First Flight in the first round, had just beaten Currituck County, 5-3, in the second round.

The run kept going. East Duplin and No. 1 seed Jordan-Matthews both stood up to the Lady Pack, and both fell. It lasted until a stout Granville Central club derailed Washington in the 2-A eastern-regional championship.

Hailey Harris was at the helm. Seniors Chrissy and Style McKissick led the Lady Pack offense. Harris’ .328 batting average contributed plenty, too, but she also spearheaded the defense. She started all but one game that season. She won 18 of her 26 starts, boasting a 2.10 earned-runs average, 227 strikeouts and seven shutouts.

Now a senior, Harris has taken on a completely different role with the ball club that hopes to add on to last year’s historic run. The addition of freshman phenom Abbigail Tucker has taken off much of the pitching pressure. Tucker has started 13 of 22 games this season, including both of Washington’s playoff games thus far. Tucker has a 1.70 ERA, 130 strikeouts and five shutouts.

Harris has been able to focus more on her batting as a result, and those results have been staggering. She’s nearly doubled her batting average to .642 through 22 games. She has 30 runs and 32 RBI.

“Hailey realizes we’ve got two pitchers,” coach Doug Whitehead said. “The pressure is not all on her this year. To be honest, she’s one heck of a hitter. She’s a great hitter. She’s batting (around) .650 and she’s just killing the ball. It must look like it’s a watermelon coming in on her.”

Harris added, “I have more time to focus on different things that make me a better player. … I haven’t really changed anything about my hitting this year. I’ve just worked harder. I don’t really know what the difference is. I’m just getting it more this year than I was last year.”

Harris is still contributing plenty on defense, too. Her versatility lets her play just about anywhere in the infield or outfield.

“We’ve got to have it. All it takes is a little twist of an ankle or something,” Whitehead said. “We’ve got a bunch of girls that can play all different positions. It’s good flexibility. These girls are used to playing with each other. We’ve got nine seniors that have played since they were about 9 years old.”

The role change can be an adjustment — both physically and mentally — but Harris has taken it in stride. As a leader on the team, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to win like anyone else is. Mentally, though, concentrating more on offense has paid dividends.

“She doesn’t have the pressure of having to come back and pitch,” Whitehead said. “It’s a good relief to have because she can concentrate more on hitting than she did last year.”

Harris is far from the only offensive asset Washington has. Jordan Pierce (.493), Mary B. Dixon (.483), Meghan Horton (.424) and Meghan Moore (.403) are all hitting at an impressive clip.

The Lady Pack hits the road for Eastern Randolph on Tuesday.