Saks’ Addesha Collins is proof this tidbit of truth is also greatly applicable on the softball diamond. The sophomore’s play, particularly her speed, is a major reason the Lady Wildcats will be making their second consecutive appearance in the Class 4A state tournament at Montgomery’s Lagoon Park today.
Despite being unranked in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll heading into the postseason, Saks finished as runner-up at last weekend’s North-Central Regional tournament to qualify.
The Lady Wildcats (43-19) will be one of eight teams vying for a state championship as they open up play against No. 10 Dallas County (21-1-1) at 10:30 a.m.
When Saks bats, it’s Collins, a 5-foot-3 lefty with more jets than an airline, that comes to the plate first. She’s capable of reaching second on a well-placed bunt down the third-base line and goes from a standstill to full-speed in a step.
“She’s exactly what you look for in a leadoff hitter,” first-year Saks coach Mike Tucker said. “She sets the tone for the team. When she comes up and gets on base or hits the ball hard, the whole team gets a sense of confidence.”
Judging from the numbers she’s turned in this season, the Lady Wildcats have no reason not to expect that’s the way things will happen during the state tourney.
Collins boasts a .354 batting average and .500 on-base percentage heading into today’s action. She’s scored a team-high 64 runs and doesn’t swing at many bad pitches. She’s tied with senior Laura Roberts for the team lead in walks with 26.
Her batting average is up nearly 100 points from the figures she posted as a freshman. Tucker said she’s hitting away as opposed to bunting and slap-hitting a lot like she did a year ago, utilizing her strength — something not immediately evident when looking at her slight build.
Collins, a three-sport star who plays volleyball and was the MVP of the Calhoun County basketball tournament, is actually right-handed. She’s been batting lefty to take advantage of the head start to first base, as if she needed it. She takes some batting practice right-handed and has experimented with it in games, but never in situations where they needed her to hit for power.
Tucker hinted at the possibility of using her more as a switch-hitter in years to come.
“I’ve practiced, and I’ve worked hard on my swing,” Collins said. “I’ve gotten my timing down better than last year. Infields play me in because they think I’m going to slap, but then I swing out and it goes in the hole.”
As impressive as Collins is on offense, Tucker said her skills are even more eye-popping in the outfield.
A few weeks ago in the Lady Wildcats’ 3-1 area championship win against Cleburne County, Saks had a one-run lead in the middle innings when a Lady Tiger hit an absolute shot over Collins’ head. She took after the ball, trekked it 30 yards and made a diving catch to preserve the lead.
Most of the time, Tucker added, she makes it look easy.
“Not only does she get there, but she’s there waiting on it,” Tucker said.
Tucker said Collins also has one of the team’s best arms and rarely allows multiple base hits on balls hit to her.
“When the ball’s in the air, I run full speed, and I never take my eye off the ball,” Collins said. “I don’t want anything hitting the ground. That’s what I take pride in.”
It’s the play of underclassmen such as Collins on a youthful Saks squad — which boasts just one senior in Roberts — that has Tucker believing his team might be able to win it all this weekend.
“We’re not over-confident but we are confident that we can go down there and play well,” Tucker said. “We’ve faced teams like Alexandria, Cherokee County, Ragland and Spring Garden. We’ve played in some big tournaments. We don’t think there are going to be any teams in Montgomery that are any better than what we’ve already faced.”
Nick Birdsong covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 235-3575.