To tell the truth, changing hitting style harder than it sounds for MU softball player

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | 10:38 p.m. CST; updated 4:52 p.m. CDT, Friday, April 10, 2009
Freshman Shana White looks to run to third base during the MU women's softball game against Boston University on Saturday at Dan Devine Pavilion.

COLUMBIA — She lied. She lied right through the smile on her face. She lied to her future coach, and she did her best to lie to herself.

Shana White had already committed to play softball and basketball at William Jewel College, but the 2007 Hickman graduate couldn’t pass up the opportunity to talk to MU coach Ehren Earleywine about playing softball for the Tigers.

Earleywine told her last summer that he saw a great future for her as a left-handed hitter who focused on bunting and slapping the ball in order to utilize her exceptional speed.

White, though, had always batted right-handed and hadn’t focused on bunting or slapping since her pre-teen days.

“What happens if I can’t do it and all that other stuff?” she asked herself. “People are going to be disappointed. I’m one of those people that I don’t like to disappoint people at all, so I was freaking out inside but trying not to let it show.”

So she lied, however innocently, and told Earleywine that she thought she could do it, that she would try anything and that she trusted him to teach her.

Even now, months after she made the decision to play at MU, the freshman squirms in her seat and buries her face in her hands when talking about the change.

“Sometimes I’m still out there like ‘What am I doing?’” White said.

Earleywine said he has seen White struggle at times but is encouraged by her progress.

“We see that with all freshmen, whether it’s with slapping or learning the signs or getting acclimated to their new roommate. There’s always that learning curve and that period of frustration,” Earleywine said. “She actually has handled it really well, and she caught on pretty quick. She still has some ground to make up, but there are other freshmen who didn’t make as dramatic of changes who have experienced probably more frustration than she has.”

Most of White’s frustration comes from the complicated mechanics a softball player must master in order to successfully bunt and slap hit. She takes a running start with each pitch, trying to make contact with the ball just before she takes the final step out of the batter’s box.

Her hands, shoulders, feet and wrists must all work together to assure the bat makes contact with the ball but doesn’t let it travel too far. If everything works according to plan, White will have reached first base before even the most adept infielder can get the ball and throw it to first base.

“I’m used to getting things easily, like learning something easily, but once it got to slapping, it was not like that at all, so I was really frustrated,” White said.

By the end of the team’s fall season, White said she was beginning to feel comfortable from the left side of the plate and was poised, if not assured, to appear at the top of MU’s lineup. She has done so alongside freshman Rhea Taylor, who has bunted and slapped her way to a .391 average to start the season while stealing 23 bases in 24 attempts. In two games on Friday, Taylor was 7-for-7 without ever hitting the ball out the of infield, an ideal night for a short-game player.

White’s season, though, was derailed before it began. Scrimmaging inside the Dan Devine Pavilion just days before the start of the season, White’s right thumb caught on the turf as she slid into second base. Not wanting to admit she was injured, she lied. She lied right through the grimace on her face and she tried to lie to herself by refusing to take the batting glove off her throbbing hand.

Pretending nothing was wrong, she continued playing through the pain, praying the ball would not be hit to her when she took her position in right field. Eventually she was forced to field an overthrow of first base and could only underhand the ball to her teammate. She finally broke down crying when she was unable to grip the bat in the next half-inning.

“Quite honestly, right up before she got injured, she was as effective, if not more effective, than she (Taylor) was with the bunting and slapping, and then when the injury occurred it was a little bit of a setback mechanically,” Earleywine said.

Surgery was not required to fix the torn ligament and chipped bones in White’s thumb, but she has been in a cast that covers her thumb and wrist for five weeks. She was still able to begin the season in the starting lineup as the designated hitter, but she has struggled, hitting just .152 while appearing in 16 of the team’s 20 games.

“I just take it a day at a time because the way I’m feeling right now, I’m just so frustrated,” she said before taking a deep breath. “I don’t know, I’m just trying to get confidence back with everything, and it’s hard, but I don’t really think about what’s going on right now.”

Luckily for White, her parents, Norman and Barbara White, are never too far away. They are a constant presence at her games and their emotional support has been essential.

“They’re my biggest supporters of all, and they always help me out with everything,” she said. “They’re always there if I ever just need time to go home to cry or vent or whatever. They’re there.”

White, who admitted she’s returned home plenty of times to do so this season, has had a long list of reasons to cry or vent this season. Although the freshman finds it hard to focus on the future goals with the overwhelming present, Earleywine is happy to talk about how good she could be.

“I think best-case scenario, (White) can be an All-American,” Earleywine said, adding that he thinks she could be one of the most dangerous offensive players in the country before her career ends. “I’m looking forward to her getting the cast off and us working really hard on her offense to see if we can get her back to where she was before she got hurt.”

White, who said she hopes to have the cast removed next week, is just “so sick of this cast right now.”

This time, she isn’t lying.

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