With Lahner, Owls have ace in hole

Megan Lahner eases the loss of Westminster star pitcher Stacy Davis to graduation.

March 29, 2006|By MELISSA HOPPERT | MELISSA HOPPERT,SUN REPORTER

Megan Lahner has waited for three years to be the ace of the Westminster softball team. The senior right-hander isn't about to let some discomfort in her shoulder stop her from seizing that opportunity.

Although she has been hampered by tendinitis the past three weeks, Lahner pitched four innings in the No. 7 Owls' season-opening 11-0 win against South Carroll on Friday and seven innings in a 2-1 win against Francis Scott Key on Monday.

"My doctor said to use pain as your guide and go by that," Lahner said. "It stinks, but I'm going to play."

Lahner, 17, leads an Owls team that lost five players to graduation from last season's state semifinalist, most notably two-time All-Metro pitcher Stacy Davis and her battery mate, All-County catcher Stephanie Gerber.

"We are rebuilding in terms of our pitcher and catcher, but I have Megan coming back, who would have been a No. 1 on most any teams," said Byron Moore, who is in his fourth year as Westminster coach.

In taking over for Davis as the Owls' No. 1 pitcher, Lahner has big shoes to fill.

Davis, the Carroll County Player of the Year last season, went 11-2 with 86 strikeouts in 91 innings for a county-low 0.69 ERA. She also hit .338 with nine RBIs.

"She was very driven and she was not just a person who did some good things, she showed everybody this is how your work habits have to be," Moore said. "She is where she is not just because she is an athlete, but because she has some great work ethics, and those ethics are always missed."

As a junior, Davis went 13-0 with 86 strikeouts in 85 innings for a 0.25 ERA. She hit .350 with 15 RBIs to lead the Owls (23-0) to their second state championship.

"It wasn't hard [waiting for a chance] because I know Stacy is a good player and she was a good leader of the team," Lahner said. "But I have been waiting since freshman year to be the pitcher."

Lahner, a second-team All-County selection, was 6-3 with a 1.52 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 55 innings last season for Westminster, which finished 17-5. As a sophomore, she went 9-0 with 50 strikeouts in 53 innings for a 1.71 ERA.

Now that Davis is gone, it's Lahner's turn to lead.

"I think she will adapt good, and I think she really will take the leadership role and she will lead by example more than anything," said Davis, who is 1-0 and has not allowed an earned run in 6 2/3 innings for Salisbury (16-4) this season. "When she steps on the field, she will set the tone for the rest of the girls."

Said Moore: "They have two different personalities. [Megan's] not a rah-rah girl like Stacy is. She does everything by a quiet demeanor. She leads by what she does, not as much by what she says you got to do."

Lahner, who typically mixes five or six pitches during a game, is looking forward to seeing how her hard work in the offseason pays off on the mound.

"I'm working on my changeup this year," she said. "Last year, I didn't have a great changeup, and I've been working on it all winter, and I'm excited to try it out."

A few weeks ago, she was able to work with pitching coach Ernie Parker, who has worked with such Olympic pitchers as Jennie Finch, Cat Osterman and Lisa Fernandez. Parker added a pitch to Lahner's repertoire called the screwdrop.

"To a right-handed hitter, it bites hard. It's almost impossible to hit," said Mark Lahner, Megan's father and the third base coach for her 18-and-under Maryland Stars team. "She very rarely ever throws a fastball anymore. Every pitch she throws has movement, because anybody can hit a fastball."

Lahner began playing softball when she was 11 and was on the mound at 12.

"I started pitching because no one else could really get it over the plate," she said. "And I just kept working on it ever since."

Mark Lahner remembers when his daughter first started out.

"My older daughter, who was a catcher at the tournament level, and her were out in the backyard throwing one day, and [Megan] was just lobbing it in," he said. "I finally went out and said, `Look, do me a favor. I don't care where it goes, throw 10 pitches as hard as you can.' She threw the first one right down the middle of the plate, and from that point, that's when she realized she can do it."

Lahner credits her father with giving her the confidence she has needed to be a standout pitcher.

"My dad has been my coach since I started, either as an assistant or head coach. He's pushed me and helped me a whole lot, especially with pitching," Lahner said. "I mean, it's my dad and all, so we don't always get along and don't always see eye-to-eye. But I like having him there for the support."

In addition to developing new pitches in the offseason, Lahner has been working on improving the weakest aspect of her game - hitting.

"I have been working on it a lot, and I think this year will be different," she said.

So far, it has. Against Francis Scott Key on Monday, Lahner, who batted .269 with 15 RBIs last season, hit a walk-off home run to give the Owls the win in a key county matchup.

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