Atascadero softball sluggers swing in slow motion
Megan McClain is an imposing figure.
With a powerful 6-foot frame, the Atascadero junior draws plenty of attention on the softball field before she even steps into the batter’s box.
Then she swings.
Nine times this season, her strapping swings have resulted in home runs, third out of 500 players in the Southern Section who have hit at least one home run this season, according to MaxPreps.com.
But the power doesn’t stop there.
Right behind McClain in the lineup is senior catcher Ally Reagan, who has six home runs on the season.
In total, Atascadero has three of the top five home-run hitters in the PAC 8 and has racked up an incredible 19 home runs in its first 18 games. The Greyhounds were off to a 5-0 start in league play eading into Tuesday’s game at Pioneer Valley and have shown no signs of slowing down.
Reagan had an off season in 2015.
A concussion and playing behind a senior catcher limited her playing time. This year, everything has changed. Reagan is the only catcher on the roster, and her confidence is at an all-time high.
“When I go up to bat, I just tell myself, ‘I can hit this girl,’ every time,” Reagan said. “I just know my hitters before will get on base for me. I’m not trying to out do myself.”
That was her mindset in a game last week against Arroyo Grande. Down by three with the bases loaded and a full count, Reagan waited for her pitch.
“I knew I wasn’t going to chase a bad one, but when I got one right down the middle I was stoked,” Reagan said.
She blasted the pitch over the fence for a grand slam to give Atascadero the lead and an eventual 7-5 win.
“I had to slow myself down when I was running the bases,” said Reagan, who finished the game with six RBI. “I just wanted to sprint. I don’t think it really hit me until I got to third and Darin (Traverso, head coach) high-fived me. That’s when I knew, I just made a big difference in a big game. Especially in my senior season, that is one of the things I will remember about it.”
The threat to opposing pitchers doesn’t end with Reagan, however. There’s nowhere to hide in the middle of Atascadero’s batting order.
“I think people get past Megan, they let out a sigh of relief,” Traverso said. “Then there is Ally. I think she benefits from that a little bit.”
In the No. 3 spot in the order is senior Sally Bowles, who is leading the team with a .490 batting average and three home runs of her own. Then it’s McClain batting cleanup as the designated hitter, with a .458 average. And finally Reagan. The three have combined for 67 RBI, accounting for 62 percent of the run production.
“Our bats have been on fire lately,” McClain said. “Scoring runs hasn’t been a big deal.”
Something good happened between the end of last season and the start of this season. Traverso is still trying to figure out what it was.
“I don’t really know what it is about the chemistry, but I’m still trying to figure it out without screwing it up,” Traverso said. “We only lost a few players, and those kids were good kids.”
Traverso thinks the addition of two college-aged female coaches and a few young jokesters has given the team a new energy. Drama has been replaced with laughs, and losses with wins.
“We have had some of the best rides home,” Traverso said. “The bus will be literally rocking because they are singing, having a good time, and they enjoy each other.”
Said McClain: “You don’t have to come to practice and worry about if your teammate is going to have your back or not. You know that they are going to be there supporting you.”
While the turnaround in team chemistry might be a mystery, the team’s early success isn’t — at least to Traverso.
“It’s not that we jumped out ahead, I think this is where we should have been for the last few years,” Traverso said.
The breakthrough season for Reagan, the power of McClain and six seniors, including Bowles and fellow captain Kaila Herzig, have the Greyhounds in first place with two key wins over Arroyo Grande and last year’s PAC 8 champion Righetti heading into the second half of the season.
Atascadero will look for more of the same: power at the plate and consistency from Bowles on the mound. Bowles is 7-4 with a 2.95 ERA in 13 appearances.
“When she loses her head, then the team does,” Reagan said of Bowles. “But she has been really solid for us all year.”
Next week, Traverso expects the return of junior second baseman Sara Wullf — who will see her first action of the season after suffering an ACL injury — to give his team another jolt. Wullf was selected second team All County by The Tribune last year and should play against Paso Robles on Friday with a chance to stay unbeaten.
“It would be really cool to go out undefeated,” Bowles said. “Knock on wood.”