Young ace is old hand

Chesapeake of Anne Arundel All-Metro pitcher Lauren Gibson started as a 4-year-old batgirl

Varisty Spring Preview

March 14, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,SUN REPORTER

Lauren Gibson was 4 and already taking her first job seriously.

The bats had to be lined up in exact order, from smallest to biggest. It was that way for the helmets, too, each perfectly placed side by side numerically.

The job came with a uniform - an extra-small in a youth size that still dragged on the ground. It was orange and teal with "Lake Shore Lightning" on the front, just like those of her older sister, Danielle, and the other players on the summer team.

Even then, as the Lightning's batgirl, Gibson couldn't get enough softball.

"I'd basically go to preschool and couldn't wait until the week was over so I could be the batgirl," said Gibson, now a sophomore pitcher who earned first-team All-Metro honors last season with the Chesapeake Cougars. "I'd go out for the coin toss, be in the middle of the circle when the team did their cheer before the game, get the bats, and I'd sit with [coach Bill Henderson]. That's when I learned to keep score and all."

The foundation that was set and the work ethic that followed when Gibson began playing a couple of years later has helped make the 14-year-old perhaps the top player in the metro area.

"Lauren's dedication surpasses any others I've seen," Chesapeake coach Don Ellenberger said. "She's not giving up until she gets it right. If she's had a bad day, she's going home to work on it and she's going to fix it. It's not staying broke long."

Gibson, 5 feet 4 and 120 pounds, can throw the ball (up to 61 mph) and hit the ball as hard as anyone. What she may lack in stature, she makes up for with technique that she constantly tries to perfect through repetition.

Ask her about details on her year-round softball routine (she plays summer ball for the Maryland Magic and began playing with the prestigious Team New Jersey program in the fall ) and she doesn't mince words: "Lets just say I'm obsessed with softball."

When Gibson came to Chesapeake last season, Ellenberger wanted to ease her in. The Cougars' lineup was strong enough that she could bat second and senior Joanna Allen was already in place to handle most of the pitching.

After hitting line drive after line drive and getting strikeout after strikeout in the team's first couple of scrimmages, Gibson was moved to third in the lineup and assigned to pitch against the tougher teams.

In leading the Cougars to the Class 4A state championship game, she finished the season 15-2 with a 1.42 ERA and led the team in seven offensive categories, including average (.533), RBIs (42), runs (40) and hits (47).

"The biggest thing with Lauren is, even as a freshman last year, you could see the confidence she had in her game," Severna Park coach Jeff Shepherd said. "She's a great pitcher, and she can hurt you equally with her bat. She makes an impact at both ends and you have to prepare for her in both aspects."

Gibson said continually playing with older youngsters while growing up helped make her freshman year a success, but some nerves came with it. Senior outfielder Brooke Owen, who was familiar with starting as a freshman, didn't notice any jitters from Gibson, however.

"We didn't know what to expect from Lauren coming in as a freshman, and she really surprised everybody with her pitching and hitting," Owen said. "She knew there was going to be pressure, but she didn't think about it, and I think that's why she did so well. She never got upset about anything, just kept her head high and performed really well."

With the exposure she has received after excelling in national tournaments with Team New Jersey during the fall, Gibson, who has a 4.13 grade point average, is already hearing from many of the big-time college schools, including UCLA and Arizona.

"She's just a little-bitty nothing, and she's going to be a big-time player," said Team New Jersey coach Jim Barsalona, who played Gibson at second base last fall and was amazed to see her hit 250-foot homers.

Henderson remembers Gibson being at the field every day for practice in her days as the batgirl, just as if she were one of the players. And he treated her as one. Everything the players got, she would get. "Right from the bat bag on up," he said.

When the Lightning was playing defense, she would never leave his side.

"Lauren was always very inquisitive, wanting to know everything that was going on and how I did things. It was one of those things where you don't expect a young kid like that to be that interested and focused in what was really going on in the game," said Henderson, who is an assistant coach at Anne Arundel Community College. "She's definitely a kid who not only has the natural ability, but the drive and natural instincts to play the game. You could see that then."

Gibson, who also plays soccer and basketball at Chesapeake, wants to become a veterinarian, and her college goal is to play softball in the mighty Pacific-10 Conference.

This season, her attention is focused on helping the Cougars win a state title. After C. Milton Wright scored two seventh-inning runs in last year's title game to come back for a 4-3 win, Gibson said she wanted to cry right on the mound.

But then she thought about it.

"I wasn't even expecting to get that far, and I did," she said. "That's all that matters, and now I know I have three more years to get back to that spot. We did a lot of work last year and all, but it just shows me that we need to do more to win it this time."

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