COVINGTON - Amanda Henderson, Amanda Hawkins and Kenya Shakoor have to find a way to get the rest of the Eastside girls ready for the rigors of tournament play as the Lady Eagles prepare to play Northside (Columbus) at 3:30 p.m. today in the opening round of the Class AAA state softball tournament.
"There were three girls at state last year. As young as they are, me and Coach (Jason) Stokes have told them to stay focused. This is one weekend where you can't screw around," said Henderson, the Lady Eagles' only senior. "You have to stay focused and play ball. Don't try to overanalyze it and don't go beyond yourself. Just do what you can and we'll win ball games."
At this stage of the season, winning games is what it's all about. Even though every team would like to run the gamut at the state tournament, Henderson's main goal is to get their first victory as soon as possible.
"Putting the first game under our belts kind of gets the nerves off and gets the momentum going, and we're ready to face some of the tougher teams we'll see at the end," Henderson said.
While some pitchers like to know something about the team they're facing, Henderson's preference is to remain totally oblivious to who she is up against.
"I know absolutely nothing at all (about Northside). I tend to find that if I go into a game not knowing anything about a team I tend to just go in there and pitch," she said. "I tend to overanalyze, so going in and not knowing anything about them I can go in relaxed and just throw."
After setting a school record with 365 strikeouts last year, Henderson has already surpassed her record with 367 strikeouts so far this season.
Her fastball is averaging 62 miles per hour and reaching 64 at times, equivalent to a 90-92 mph baseball pitch. Henderson is also averaging just more than 13 strikeouts per game.
Even though she has six different pitches in her bag, Henderson tends to bank on four pitches throughout the game - screwball, curve, rise and change-up.
"With two strikes and less than three balls, I try to stay away from the strike zone and throw something that's going to move and they have to chase," she said. "If I don't have to throw something that's hitable, I'm not going to. I've learned that if they don't swing at the first one, they'll swing at the second."
With all those pitches and locations she can choose, Henderson would rather have someone else tell her what to throw and where to put it.
"Coach (Michael) Poor calls the pitches for us. I trust him to be able to watch their swings, their stance and stuff like that to be able to find holes in their swing then we throw to their weakness," Henderson said. "I like it because it helps me not to think as much. We work a lot our catcher Amanda (Hawkins). She has certain signs that she relays back to him. If I can get my head out of the way, it tends to work a lot better."
Manny Fils can be reached at email@example.com.