W. Maryland's Backof makes fast adjustment

April 30, 1995|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,Sun Staff Writer

Supposedly plenty of adjustments needed to be made.

Small ones like beginning the softball season batting eighth in the lineup after hitting cleanup for the Westminster Owls in high school. Bigger ones like moving to second base after playing in center, and getting used to college pitching.

All of them went practically unnoticed by Western Maryland freshman Julie Backof.

"Going in, I told her I'd have her in the starting lineup, but I just didn't know where. She just said 'Fine, wherever,' " said Western Maryland coach George Dix.

So when starting right fielder Carolyn Kelsey, an All-Centennial Conference performer in 1994, had to stay home to interview for grad school, Backof found herself starting in right when the team opened the season at the Methodist College Invitational in Fayetteville, N.C.

In four games, she had seven hits in 12 at-bats, including a double and a triple, four runs scored and an RBI as the Green Terror went 3-1. She also made a diving catch that got raves.

"When I was younger, I pretty much played all the different positions so readjusting wasn't too bad," Backof said.

The big start offensively was important for Backof, who's now batting fifth and went into yesterday's season finale against Lebanon Valley hitting .472 with 31 RBIs and 28 runs scored and a slugging percentage of .819 to help lead the Green Terror to a second straight share of the Centennial Conference championship.

After a stellar junior year at Westminster High in which she hit over .500 and ran away with Carroll Player of the Year honors, Backof struggled to match the effort as a senior. It left her thinking going into her first year of college play.

"Last season was pretty rough on me. I came in and [Coach Dix] and I worked in the [batting] cage, I started swinging the ball well and got some confidence back in North Carolina. I wasn't expecting to come out as strong as I did," Backof said.

By the time the team returned from the trip south, Dix had a good idea who would be at second base this season. Backof, a biology major, has made only three errors and has looked like she's played there all her life. The adjustment also had no effect on her offensive production, as her numbers indicate.

"I knew she was a tremendous athlete from seeing her at Westminster, but I never thought she would deliver like she has," Dix said. "I saw the way she could handle the ball and she didn't have any problems with the move to second."

As for the offense? "From Day 1 in North Carolina, she hit the ball well and has done so the entire season," Dix added. "She's the complete package -- speed, power and a tremendous knowledge of the game. She's hard to defense in that she can hit from one line to the other. You don't know where the ball is going, just that it's going to be hit hard."

A couple of those hard-hit balls went over fences. She christened the new park at Gettysburg with a homer over the fence, the only one so far. She did the same at Western Maryland -- a shot to left-center that Dix believes is the first and only one to leave the park there.

Backof, also a first-team All-CC goalie last fall in soccer, is modest about the adjustments she's made look so easy and insists she's still getting used to playing in the infield.

"In college, the pitcher's mound is back a couple of feet so the ball doesn't seem to be coming any faster," she said. "The big change has been playing second base. I'm still having a little trouble with the infield bounces."

It's to the point now where nothing Backof does surprises Dix.

"It's hard to believe she's a freshman with the poise she shows at the plate and handling the ball," he said. "It's frightening to think she's only going to get better."

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