BROOKSVILLE — Before the start of the season, veteran Hernando Christian softball coach Ernie Chatman was unsure whether his team could duplicate the success it had achieved the previous two seasons.
Hernando Christian advanced to the state semifinals in 2009 and ’10 to complete the best seasons in school history.
Entering 2011 though, the Lions had a considerable amount of production to replace, including ace pitcher Courtney Riddle, who led the Lions in batting and pitching but transferred to Hernando during the offseason.
Hernando Christian did make one substantial addition, however, when Kala Thompson transferred from South Sumter.
And based on Thompson’s performance to date, it’s a move that may have Chatman re-evaluating his team’s postseason chances.
Through 17 games Thompson, a sophomore, leads the Lions in batting (.750), hits (33), RBIs (27), doubles (eight), home runs (four), stolen bases (10), innings pitched (54) and strikeouts (95). At various points this season she has led the North Suncoast in nearly every major statistical category, albeit against weaker competition than the majority of her counterparts.
“She’s had an impact in a variety of ways,” Chatman said. “I think she’s such an instinctive baserunner, which is really a key role for us too because she creates on the bases. She’s been able to swing the bat well. And she’s an outstanding defensive player from the shortstop position, although she hasn’t played much at that position.”
In the pitcher’s circle, though, is where Thompson has made the biggest difference for Hernando Christian (17-0). She has struck out almost half the batters (95-of-200) she has faced this season. In Hernando Christian’s two toughest games against Bradenton Christian, Thompson limited the Panthers to two runs on four hits in complete-game victories.
“If you look at statistics we probably strike out 10-plus a game, which really helps from a defensive standpoint,” Chatman said. “The less balls in play, the less chance you have of making an error.”
Thompson was a JV pitcher for South Sumter much of her freshman year before being called up late in the season to the varsity squad, where she saw action in three games as a second baseman. Her sister, Victoria, plays for South Sumter and is a senior infielder there.
Thompson decided to transfer to Hernando Christian during the offseason because of academics, her familiarity with Chatman and the opportunity for increased playing time.
So far, the move has been mutually beneficial.
“I knew I had a lot of weight to carry on my shoulders,” Thompson said. “I knew I had to go in with a strong head because we were going to have a young team and I was going to have to contribute a lot.”
Thompson has done her share of contributing and then some. Postseason success, however, still might elude Hernando Christian. Chatman said the teams the Lions would likely face in the playoffs are tougher than postseason opponents they played the past two years.
Backed by Thompson, though, the Lions have a fighting chance. And in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Hernando Christian, that’s all Chatman can ask for.