If Highland softball coach Patrick Martin has a hunch, those around him might be best served to listen.
In the beginning of the season, the second-year coach had Morgan Belsole leading off and Alex Chorba batting second. In the third game, he decided to flip the two and hasn’t changed it back.
While Chorba went 0-for-2 with a walk against Plainfield Central (Illinois) in that first game, she followed with a 2-for-4, three-run game against Sweetwater (Tenn.).
Things have only gotten better, as the four-year letterwinner entered the week batting .500 and led the team in hits (35), RBIs (24) and runs (25) while topping Medina County with four home runs.
“It’s a couple things,” Martin said. “She got voted team captain this year and we kind of put her in that leadoff role to see how she would do, and she’s really taken off with it. Power was definitely something we didn’t expect, but for her to do that and take the reins and set the tone for the rest of the lineup, that shows what she wants to do.”
For a leadoff hitter to lead her team in runs isn’t uncommon, but that the center fielder is doing it in RBIs and home runs is incredible.
Batting in the lower portion of the lineup in 2016, Chorba was nagged by injury and missed a third of the season. In 44 at-bats, she hit .205 with two home runs and 11 RBIs.
The senior knew this was going to be her swan song, however, and has taken to the plate with fervor.
“To start the season, it was the shift that we’re the seniors, so we have to get the ball rolling,” Chorba said. “Taking the leadoff spot, I like the freshness of the at-bat. It’s kind of like a clean slate to start the game and clear my mind. Because hitting is contagious, for me to try and get a hit for our team at the top of the game gets our foot in the door. Everybody kind of builds on that momentum.”
The Hornets face Tallmadge today with a chance to ultimately tie the Blue Devils for the Suburban League American Conference title. The last time the teams met, Tallmadge had Highland down to its last strike before Chorba hit a two-out, two-run home run to tie things in the top of seventh. The Hornets won 8-3 in eight innings.
“For her to start the way she did and to keep coming up with this is incredible,” Martin said. “You look at that Tallmadge game. We’re down by two runs and down to our very last strike and she hits the home run and we eventually win it. You’re not going to have a bigger at-bat than that, and she keeps doing it.”
No one on the team sees Highland as having a top half and bottom half of the lineup as long as Chorba is batting leadoff. She starts every game as the first batter, but after the first inning she can pop up anywhere and provide a spark.
“I’m not surprised because I know last year she was overcoming an injury,” said Hanna Griffin, who bats third. “She’s back and better than ever. She’s definitely earned her No. 1 spot. She makes it happen and gets us on top. It doesn’t matter where she’s at in the lineup in an inning. She’s either going to bring in the runs or score the runs.”
It’s a confidence Chorba, who plans on walking on for Ohio State’s club team, reciprocates. It’s not so much driving in runs that gets her going as it is the fact that, no matter the situation, she knows the defending league champs can score.
“My confidence is through the roof with our team’s batting,” Chorba said. “Earlier in the season we had seven batters in the county leaders in terms of batting averages. To have that mentality, it helps. All I need to do is get on base and I have eight other girls that have done it before to get me in.”
Chorba’s glove is just as solid, as she hadn’t made an error in 20 chances prior to Monday. The senior had 17 putouts and three assists. No other Highland starter has a clean slate defensively.
“She’s anchoring our defense, too,” Martin said. “She brings that experience you can’t teach at that level. That’s huge for us. She sets the tone and is definitely the leader. Any ball sent out that way we know is going to get caught. It puts piece of mind in our pitchers and our coaches. She’s kind of doing it all right now.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.