Winik likes view behind the plate Potent battery: Owings Mills catcher combines with pitcher Alison Kleiner to form a productive tandem.

April 26, 1996|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

As the temperature outside gradually decreased and the leaves began to turn brown last fall, Nikki Winik already was counting down the days until the start of softball season.

Winik, a senior catcher at Owings Mills, would give daily updates of her countdown to coach Lisa Meyer.

One day, however, Winik was visibly perturbed. She had miscalculated, forgetting that 1996 was a leap year.

"She was dying when she realized that now she would have to wait an extra day to start softball," Meyer said.

Winik's anxiousness is understandable. Beyond the gratification of being an All-Baltimore County player on a team that has made three consecutive appearances in the Class 1A state semifinals, the softball diamond is the place where Winik feels the most comfortable and in control.

"Softball is something that is a release from everything else," said Winik, who also plays volleyball. "When I crouch down behind the plate, that's the only thing I care about. Whatever good or bad things that have happened in or out of school are all left behind."

Softball also is the perfect outlet for an extrovert like Winik, who describes herself as "loud and aggressive."

Winik's enthusiasm and competitiveness have earned her the respect of her teammates and opponents as much as her superb skills. Those traits also have made her a team leader, a role she readily embraces.

"She definitely has a voice that people listen to," said Owings Mills junior pitcher Alison Kleiner.

That's when she has a voice. Winik expends so much energy encouraging her teammates that her voice is usually reduced to barely more than a whisper by the end of the game.

Much of that encouragement is directed toward Kleiner.

Winik and Kleiner form what is arguably the best battery in Baltimore County, combining their individual talent, determination and softball savvy.

They have led the seventh-ranked Eagles to an 11-0 record. Kleiner (11-0, 0.29 ERA) has thrown three no-hitters (consecutively) and seven shutouts and has allowed just 28 hits in 73 innings with 91 strikeouts.

Only 11 runners have attempted to steal against the Eagles, and Winik has thrown out eight of them. She has picked off several others.

"I want them to challenge my arm," said Winik, who threw out 24 of 29 attempted basestealers last season. "But usually I throw them out once and they don't run anymore."

On offense, Winik leads the team in stolen bases (19 steals in 19 attempts) and hitting with runners in scoring position (.500), and is among the team leaders in batting average (.387), RBIs (10), slugging percentage (.580), on-base percentage (.525) and walks (nine).

Winik's relationship with Kleiner began seven years ago when she hit a grand slam off Kleiner when they were on opposing recreation league teams.

They became teammates the following year, and that's when Winik first attempted catching.

"Alison is the pitcher I learned off of," said Winik, who also catches Kleiner on a team that competes in the Maccabi International Games. "I had been playing third base and shortstop, but I got bored there. Just standing out there wasn't for me. That's why I switched to catching because I always thought it was neat to be so involved in the game."

Kleiner will have to adjust to a new catcher next season, however.

Winik, who plans to major in biochemistry with a concentration in forensic medicine, will play softball next season at the Florida Institute of Technology, where she has accepted a partial academic, partial athletic scholarship.

She probably already is counting the days.

Pub Date: 4/26/96

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