Churchill, Aloha softball smother South Eugene
It must be an unnerving sight for an opposing pitcher when the reigning Metro League Player of the Year stands in the batting circle before the first inning begins.
Normally, a hurler gets to spin seeds at a light hitter or two to get a groove going before delving into the heart of the order. But when Aloha senior shortstop Emily Churchill is batting leadoff there is little time to ease into a game. Pitchers better come ready because Churchill might be the most feared hitter in the Metro League. Engrossed in a new role as the Warriors' table setter and invigorated with an improved team around her, Churchill is chopping at the bit to see where this season goes.
Churchill went 4-for-4 with three extra-base hits against South Eugene on Monday in a 16-1 five-inning rout of the Axe at Aloha High School. Whether the MPOY stays at the top of the order remains to be seen, but so far the experiment has gone overly smooth.
"This was only my second game hitting at the top of the lineup, but it seems like a good approach," Churchill said. "I've hit third or fourth (in the order) before and I bring that same approach to the top. I feel like it's a strategy for getting a lot of runs. If you have a good hitter at the top, then you have more opportunities to score because you have more at-bats."
Churchill batted twice in the first and third innings, starting the game with a cracked double and ending the first stanza with an RBI triple that punctuated a 7-0 lead. The Warriors plated seven runs on just two hits, leaning on walks, wild pitches and Axe blunders to build a 7-0 lead. Left fielder Taylynne Asai Silva had an RBI double in the second inning and added a two-run single in the third to go up 10-0. Aloha finished the game with 12 hits including three from senior catcher Gabby Fritz.
"We went into the game telling each other we needed to go hard every at-bat," Churchill said. "We had to leave all of our energy on the field. Hitting is contagious. One hit led to another and another."
Churchill said she goes to the plate trying to attack the opposite side of the field. A right-handed who can hit for average or power, Churchill tries to pepper right field, rather than pull the ball to left. The mentality helps Churchill sit back on the softball, wait for it to travel deeper into the strike zone and rake. The Axe outfield shaded Churchill left too, leaving the opposite field clubber open spaces to deposit her extra-base hits. Churchill is an on-base savant, who was an impossible out in Metro last year. Her on-base percentage as a junior was one of the best in the state, so it makes sense new head coach Michelle Riley would pencil her first in the order. Behind Churchill is the speedy Fritz, Michelle Winfield and Kendra Hutchinson in the cleanup spot. Winfield and Asai Silva both made outstanding catches in the outfield against the Axe. Fritz could very well be the smallest backstop in Metro, but she's blinding fast, a fundamentally sound catcher and the perfect complement behind Churchill in the order.
"I think we're going to have a great season," Churchill said. "Our team chemistry is priceless. That's key in a team. We all love each other. We all laugh with each other. It's totally a team effort."
Churchill said Riley has fit right in her first season with the Warriors.
"She's really in it for making connections with the players," Churchill said. "That's really important because as a coach you need to know how you can talk to certain players. She goes hard, but she knows how to have a good time with it, so that's great."
Hutchinson transferred over from Westview where she was a home run threat with big-time power. The sophomore also pitched the first two innings against South Eugene and struck out six. Hutchinson's ability has never been lacking. Now she'll get ample playing time to showcase her three-pronged talent as a pitcher, hitter and infielder.
"She's a great addition," Churchill said of Hutchinson. "You can always use a great pitcher and a great hitter. Everyone on this team has the same potential. We all give it all we got. Everyone is great."
Teams that go 7-19 as Aloha did last year don't often get the postseason recognition when it comes to awards season. To the victor go the spoils as the saying goes. But the fact Churchill split the MPOY with players from Glencoe and Westview speaks to the Warrior's preternatural gifts both at the dish and in the field. Opposing coaches thought that highly of Churchill who hopes to duplicate the feat and bring the Warriors back to the 6A playoffs.
"I want nothing less," Churchill said with a smile. "I'm always going to push for more. I'm working hard. I'm practicing hard. I'm hoping for the same results or more."
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