Hitting on all cylinders

C. Milton Wright's Megan Favazza and Nikki Hartner used hard work to turn around their fortunes at the plate.

May 17, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

For C. Milton Wright softball players Megan Favazza and Nikki Hartner, the pride that they took in their team's accomplishments last spring was tempered by their individual performances.

Although the Mustangs made it to the Class 3A state final last season, Favazza batted just .200 and Hartner finished with an anemic .125 average.

Vowing to make a much bigger impact at the plate in 2006, both played club ball and worked with coaches in the summer and winter. They entered the season with high hopes - and now they have high batting averages, as well.

Favazza and Hartner ended the regular season batting .446 and .386, respectively, helping No. 4 C. Milton Wright win the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference Chesapeake Division title.

"I knew I could do better," Favazza said. "I was disappointed with myself, but I knew I could improve."

During the offseason, the two found that they were struggling for different reasons. With Favazza, it was a matter of fixing her mechanics and being more patient, while Hartner needed to relax more at the plate.

Favazza spent a lot of time working on hitting with her father, Tim, who coaches the Churchville Lightning club team that both girls played on, and later with Dan Funk, the father of C. Milton Wright pitcher Chelsea Funk.

Favazza, a junior second baseman, changed her mind-set and adjusted her hitting style. She did too much lunging and slapping last year, so her father shortened her stride and had her work on showing patience.

C. Milton Wright coach Joe Dunch noticed the difference early in this year's spring tryouts.

"She didn't seem to generate a great deal of power last year, but I think her timing is better now," Dunch said. "She's more patient to sit there and wait before turning on a pitch. To get that extra millisecond of time when contact is made, she's been able to drive the ball with more force."

Favazza is batting in the No. 6 spot and had six extra-base hits in the regular season - three homers, two doubles and a triple - and showed more confidence right from the start.

She began the season on a roll, hitting around .700 before going 3-for-13 in one stretch. Instead of letting it get her down, however, Favazza went back to the batting cage with her father and then went on an 11-for-23 tear.

Hartner, a left-handed-hitting sophomore right fielder, realized she was putting too much pressure on herself last season. That led to her repeated attempts to crush every pitch.

"It seemed like she always wanted to swing for the fences," Dunch said.

Dunch liked Hartner's defensive skills and eventually wound up starting her, pinch hitting for her and then letting her re-enter - a frustrating set of circumstances for her.

She struck out 13 times in 32 at-bats last year and often batted ninth. Her problems at the plate worsened as the season went on.

"I guess I just let the pressure get to my head," Hartner said. "I wasn't performing well, and I knew that I could. I really wanted to prove that I could, and I just tried too hard."

She played with the Lightning and the Perry Hall Comets over the summer and hit well. Hartner realized that if she could hit .400 at the high levels of club softball, then there's no reason she couldn't become a good hitter in high school.

Hartner said once she relaxed and went into this season with a "clear head," then everything fell into place. She is tied for the team lead with six homers despite batting seventh.

Hartner is making such good contact that Dunch even put her in the leadoff spot a few times.

"I finally just said, `OK, whatever happens, happens,' " Hartner said. "When I started hitting the ball more consistently during the summer, I thought to myself ... OK, I can do this."

It's not just Favazza and Hartner who are hitting better this season - the whole C. Milton Wright team has improved at the plate.

The Mustangs, who batted .295 as a team and scored 5.6 runs per game last season, scored 10.2 runs per game in the regular season this year and improved their batting average to .387.

Favazza and Hartner's increased productivity has played a major role in the Mustangs' 18-2 record heading into the playoffs.

"They knew they had to improve and they were willing to put in the energy to do it," Tim Favazza said. "They were ready when [practice] began."

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