It's not that Becky Joeckel doesn't like to talk. But when the conversation turns to her contributions to Centennial's softball program, she flashes a sheepish grin, shrugs her shoulders and looks down, seemingly attempting to hide from the attention.
Joeckel might as well give up hiding. She blew her cover long ago.
Rewind to her sophomore year, Joeckel's second varsity season at Centennial and first as a starter in right field. After hitting .435, scoring 34 runs, driving in 23 and stealing 19 bases, Joeckel rose from anonymity to first-team All-County status.
The last two seasons have produced similar results. There was her second All-County first-team selection and recognition on The Sun's All-Metro team last year.
This spring, Joeckel (pronounced yay-kel) is finishing her high school career in style. She is a key reason the Eagles took an 18-0 record into yesterday's Class 3A Region III championship game against Thomas Johnson (past the Howard County Sun's lTC deadline). During the regular season, she batted a team-high .478 with 20 RBI and only two strikeouts in 46 at-bats. The All-County list awaits her name again.
Joeckel is more self-assured than the painfully shy player who led Centennial to the playoffs two years ago. As her co-captain status hints, she is one of Centennial's leaders now. But you won't catch her talking about it too much.
"I'm not really that vocal. I'm not one of those people who will yell in your face," says Joeckel. "I'm more of a leader by example. I control the outfielders. They watch me play and see how hard I work, and maybe they'll play at my level.
"Well, I don't mean at my level," adds Joeckel with a corrective touch of modesty. "Maybe they'll try and work as hard."
Joeckel has set a standard that Centennial's future outfielders will not equal easily. It could be argued that no player in the county has performed better over the last three years.
Offensively, Joeckel has been a constant thorn in the side of opposing pitchers. After her sophomore breakthrough season, she came back last year to hit .380, steal 27 bases and knock in a team-high 27 runs, setting the stage for her fine senior year.
Then there's Joeckel's defense, the part of the game that drives her the most. For two seasons, she has not committed an error.
Joeckel owes her errorless streak to a number of factors, beginning with her fine speed and great instincts, not to mention a refusal to play it safe. Last year behind pitcher Lindy Mellendick, she recorded several of her 27 putouts with spectacular, diving grabs, one of which saved a victory against Howard. She also threw out eight runners at first base.
"I go all out. Whatever it takes to catch the ball, I'll do it," Joeckel says. "If [teammates] see me sacrificing my body, they realize how much I want to win."
This year hasn't been as busy for Joeckel. Much of that can be explained by senior pitcher Jodi Meitl, who has recovered from a disabling automobile accident last spring to pitch brilliantly. Joeckel recorded only 12 putouts and three assists.
"She [Joeckel] pulled a double play against us this year I still can't believe," recalls Hammond coach Dave Guetler. "She charged a line drive, dove, caught it, then doubled up our girl off first base from her knees. She makes the hard plays look routine."
"When she is out there, I know that she's going to catch any ball that's hit between center field and the [right field] foul line," Meitl says. "Over her head, behind her back, it doesn't matter. Becky will catch it.
"She can do anything, sports-wise," adds Meitl. "We were at a team picnic and we decided to play some pool. Becky made every shot."
Joeckel has performed well in several sports. She started for three years on Centennial's varsity basketball team, and earned a reputation as one of the scrappier guards in the county. She was the same type of player as a four-year fullback in soccer.
"Basketball is actually my favorite sport to play, but softball is the sport I'm best at," Joeckel says. "I've always played it, and I wouldn't know how to put it down."
She started playing softball at age 6 in the Howard County Youth Program, and immediately realized she had a strong arm. She could throw to the pitcher's mound from the outfield with little difficulty. After that season, Joeckel made the All-Star team every year until she left HCYP to try fast pitch for the first time at Centennial.
"Defensively, I was fine. But I had to learn how to hit fast pitch. I went to a lot of batting cages," she recalls.
Next year, Joeckel will take her skills to Towson State University, where she figures to play the outfield. For now, she has several obstacles to overcome -- the opponents who are standing in the way of Centennial's first state championship and a nagging lower back strain that has hampered her for the past three weeks. Joeckel still has not missed a start.
"It hurts a lot when I run and when I swing, but I don't care how much pain I'm in. I'll play," says Joeckel, who is receiving heat and ultrasound treatment to alleviate the pain. "I can rest it, but not until we win the states."