by Aaron Garcia
Just a sophomore, Piedmont High School softball player Sarah Tucker burst onto the scene this spring by leading all Union County public-school hitters with a .536 batting average and is already being described as a “rock” for the team by first-year coach Jason Phelix. The Panthers upset Forest Hills last week to capture the Rocky River 1A/2A conference tournament crown and now appear to be playing their best ball headed into the Class 2A state playoffs, which begin Friday, May 11. Union County Weekly sat down with Tucker, a third baseman, to discuss the season so far.
Q: How did it feel to win the conference tournament?
A: It felt really good because we’d been struggling all season. It just felt good to come up and win something like that.
Q: After starting the season with a 1-4 record, what’s the biggest difference in how the team is playing now?
A: Now we get along more. We still have our problems, but we’ve meshed together as a team now. Coach Phelix is new, so he’s just getting to know everybody. Now he knows how everybody is, and everybody understands everybody else now. It’s more of a team effort now.
Q: Are you surprised by your success at the plate?
A: Yeah, I am, actually. I did really well on JV. I had the highest batting average there, too. But I didn’t expect myself to do so well against varsity pitching.
Q: How’s the adjustment been in the field, especially since you play third base?
A: It hasn’t been too bad. I’m not the best fielder in the world, but I wouldn’t say I suck at it. I feel like I’m doing pretty well. I’ve played third base quite a lot the past summers playing travel ball, so I feel comfortable there.
Q: How long have you been playing softball?
A: I probably started in (an) 8-and-under (league), so six or seven years.
Q: Would you say softball has been a way of life for you?
A: Yeah, I like it a lot. When I was growing up, I used to dread going to softball practice. I’m glad my dad (Bill) kept me in it because he’s helped me the whole way. I really like it now.
Q: How old were you when you wanted to quit?
A: Probably from 8U to 10U. I dreaded practice and everything, but I started getting on up in age and I started getting better at it, and I really started enjoying it.
Q: Was there anything in particular that made you appreciate it more?
A: I started playing travel ball and I made a lot of friends. I started having fun and I loved the coaches. It was something to do. Just being good at something is awesome.
Q: What would you have done if you quit?
A: I don’t know if I would’ve done anything because my dad still tries to get me to try out for other sports, but I just don’t have any interest in anything else.
Q: How’s it been adjusting to Coach Phelix?
A: He’s really different from (last year’s) coach (Tad) Baucom, so everyone had to adjust to him. But in my opinion, I think he’s a really good coach. He really believes that we can do stuff, and he hasn’t given up on us all season. I think that’s really good for us because we give up on ourselves too easily. It’s nice to have someone else that doesn’t give up on us. He gives really good speeches and stuff and gets everybody pumped up most of the time, and he keeps his head. He doesn’t ever get angry, but he doesn’t get too happy, either.
Q: Out of all of your stats, what jumps out the most to you?
A: Really, it’s my batting average. It’s really not all about stats. Normally I don’t worry about it, as long as I hit the ball hard every game and every at-bat and I try my best. I don’t really have anything that jumps out at me. It’s not even the home runs that I’ve hit. I just always want to hit the ball hard.
Q: Still, when someone tells you you’re hitting .536, what goes through your head?
A: I don’t ever want to be boastful or brag about it, but I get pretty happy.
Q: How do you feel about the team heading into the playoffs?
A: If we keep playing like we played last week, I’m sure we’ll get pretty far because the team I saw last week is really good. We all worked together. If we keep playing like that, I think we have a pretty good chance.