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NEW PORT RICHEY — Here’s a frightening thought for North Suncoast batters: River Ridge right-hander Lakyn Shull pitched her junior year at less than full strength and still managed to go 15-3 with a 0.78 ERA and 164 strikeouts.
In May as a sophomore, Shull started to feel weaker as the season wore on. Her pitches had less pop. Her ability to go deep into games slowly dissipated.
River Ridge coach Ernie Beck attributed Shull’s tired arm to inexperience.
“When she was a freshman, she would go out and she didn’t pace herself too well,” Beck said. “You kind of just chalked it up to Lakyn being Lakyn.”
But after the season, around June, Shull knew there was something more than just general fatigue from a grinding season.
“My lymph nodes swelled up behind my ears and under my neck,” Shull said. “And then we went to the doctor and they said I had mono.”
The illness came right as Shull was preparing for an important summer of travel ball with her club team Florida Ultimate Gold. Her team would be playing in showcase tournaments around the country with numerous college scouts on hand. Shull didn’t want to be left out.
“Don’t tell my doctors this but I still played,” Shull said. “That’s probably why I didn’t recover as soon. There were big-time recruiting tournaments. We went out to Vegas and that was the week after I found out I had mono, and I was like, ‘You know what, we already have our plane tickets. My team needs me. If I don’t go, we’re going to be down a sub,’ so I had to make a presence.
"That kind of hurt me in the recruiting process as well because coaches were like, ‘Oh, she’s not as good.’ Because it felt like I was throwing like 49 miles an hour. It felt like every time I would pitch, I would hit a brick wall.”
As a junior, Shull was dominant at times. But she still didn’t feel 100 percent.
“Coming off of the mono, it was very psychological,” Shull said. “This game is 90 percent mental, 10 percent talent, so it’s that mental wall that I kind of put up last year. And this year, I’m breaking it down and I’m ready.”
Finally healthy, Shull has been downright menacing as a senior.
The 6-foot fireballer who says she can touch 65 mph on the radar gun, nearly led the Royal Knights to a win over Class 5A runnerup East Lake, which is ranked No. 20 nationally by ESPN RISE. River Ridge fell 1-0, but Shull surrendered just one run on three hits.
Against Zephyrhills on Friday, Shull struck out 11, retired 15 in a row at one point and allowed only four hits in a 10-1 victory.
“Yeah, she’s putting it all together now,” Beck said. “She’s always had the speed and the power. I think she’s much better at spreading it out and moving it around. That’s part of the maturation process.”
Without having to worry about the physical aspect of her game, Shull’s confidence is at an all-time high.
“I feel like when we need that strikeout and the bases are loaded and we don’t have any outs but we need me to buckle down and get three strikeouts, I can do that this year,” Shull said. “I feel like I’m that comfortable. …I feel like I’m in control of everything that’s happening.”