MILFORD >> During the summer prior to her freshman year at Law, Amanda Leone worked on improving her skills behind the plate, knowing it could potentially earn her a spot on the varsity.
“I knew coming into high school that the team needed a catcher, so all summer I worked hard,” said Leone, now a senior. “I was like ‘I need to catch, I want to be part of the varsity roster’. So, I took lessons, and with my travel team (Extreme Chaos) I told the coach that I really wanted to focus on catching. I also worked on hitting because I knew my bat would help the team. So I decided to be a catcher, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
Leone is nearing the end of her fourth season as the Eagles’ starting catcher. Law (11-9) will play a first-round contest in the Class L state tournament next week.
When Leone was a freshman, Eagles coach Melanie Paolini expected then senior Melissa Nelson to start behind the dish, as Nelson did during the second half of her junior year. But Paolini was impressed enough with Leone to give her a chance to start.
“Amanda showed up and she had a lot of skill for a freshman,” Paolini said. “If she was able to hold it together back there, then we could put Melissa back at shortstop and complete our team pretty much, and that’s what ended up happening.”
Paolini allowed Leone to call pitches.
“There were times her freshman year that we discussed pitch calling,” Paolini said. “But for the most part, she was right on with my mind set, it was almost like she was reading my mind.
“It (allowing catchers to call pitches) depends on my trust level with them. We pick their brains and we ask them why they called a certain pitch. We try to teach them to be able to call their own game. She stepped in (as a freshman). She always had a good arm, but she’s really perfected the art of being a catcher back there. The pitchers trust her. I trust her.”
Paolini described Leone as “the nice kid”, and it took Leone some time to develop into a vocal leader.
“For her to take charge was a lot,” Paolini said. “We finally feel she got herself there, with our help, by junior year. Defensively, mid-sophomore year into junior year she really started to take control of the team. When you have the skill set that she has, it doesn’t matter what grade level you’re in, you need to be the leader on the field.”
Leone was named a captain as a junior.
“Catching, obviously, is like a leadership role,” Leone said. “Last year, being captain as a junior helped me so much to step up and be like ‘I need to step it up and push them to where they need to be’. I knew I had to be the mouth.”
Confidence was another area where Leone improved upon.
“We talked about this with her since sophomore year,” Paolini said. “We told her that if you only went into the batter’s box and knew how good you were, none of these pitchers would get you out. Nobody. She never believed it, she really didn’t. She struggled with the confidence level. This year she shows the confidence.”
Earlier this year, Leone notched her 100th career hit.
“It was incredible,” Leone said. “Honestly, I had no idea I was (close to) the 100th hit going into my senior season, but it was great to do it. It was a great honor.”
This season Leone is batting .472 with 19 runs and a team-leading 26 RBIs. Of her 25 hits, 21 were singles. She’s walked 20 times and stole three bases.
“She’s always been a great offensive player, always hits the ball with power,” Paolini said. “This year, I’ve seen more that anything, just her discipline in the batter’s box. She doesn’t swing for the long ball. A lot kids want to hit home runs, Amanda doesn’t. She’s in there, she looks for her pitch, and she goes with the pitch. She was a hard out this year.”