TAMPA — Going back to Little League, Chamberlain softball player Mary Kate Smith has played every position with the exception of second base.
Every other place was fair game, even though it might have been a tough sell at first: "I used to despise the outfield," Smith recalls. She has played first base, outfield and catcher in her four seasons at Chamberlain. Her positional flexibility was a part of it, but the other side was that the Chiefs needed her bat in the lineup.
And what a bat she has had this season, even though Smith said she didn't know about her torrid start at the plate until Thursday.
"Somebody mentioned it to me today," she said. "I still don't know what it is exactly."
To be exact, Smith goes into tonight's game against Plant with 15 hits in 16 at-bats this season. Yes, she has made only one out. Her .938 batting average is the best in the state.
"I just feel very confident in myself right now," she said.
That might be an understatement.
Smith, an exemplary student whose 5.84 weighted GPA (a 4.0 unweighted) ranks 10th in her senior class, will attend Stanford, where she was recruited to play the corner infield positions. Smith said she dreamed of playing at Stanford since she was 12 years old and first watched Stanford play in the college world series on television.
"There was just something about the way they played," said Smith, who chose Stanford over Florida, Northwestern, Virginia and Auburn. "After that game, I told my mom, I'm going to Stanford. … And later on I knew that if I had the chance to go to my dream school and I didn't go, I might regret it later."
Smith was supposed to start at first this season, but Chamberlain coach Bob Diez needed her elsewhere. With an injury to starting catcher Kasie Hatfield, he put Smith behind the plate.
Her leadership there has done wonders working with a young pitching staff that includes junior Alexandra Hartshorn and freshman Angela Kafalas.
"She controls the game from back there at catcher," Diez said. "She's worked very well with both of our pitchers. She lets them know the little things they have to do."
"That feel for catching never goes away," Smith said. "It still comes to me. It's great working with pitchers who you can talk with about what you see. … For me, I just go out and play and try not to think about it too much."
The Chiefs (6-0) haven't been challenged much in their first six games, outscoring opponents 82-5, but their most challenging stretch begins against the Panthers (8-1).
"We're going to be tested," Diez said. "We'll see how it pans out."
But Diez is glad to have Smith there to put behind the plate.
"She's a mature young lady," Diez said. "She's a great team player. She wants to be in the lineup. She'll play first base at Stanford. She played rightfield for us two years ago. She's solid as a hitter."
Eduardo A. Encina can be reached
at firstname.lastname@example.org or