PANTHER PROFILE: Truax rediscovers swing as Panthers’ hitting becomes contagious
By KEITH SPARKS
Throughout the course of a season, most players go through a “slump” of sorts, during which the game seems to be more difficult for one reason or another. According to Liberty Hill junior third baseman Jessika Truax, she found herself in a slump during the first half of district play.
After a dominating two-home-run, four-RBI performance at the plate against Lampasas March 28, it’s safe to say her slump is over.
“I really think my hitting has taken off,” Truax said. “I started a little rocky at the beginning of the season… I think I was in a bit of a slump. I sort of changed my batting stance a little bit, so I was trying to get used to that, but in Lampasas everything sort of clicked.”
Liberty Hill Head Coach Charice Hankins also gave a nod to Truax’s tweaked batting stance when referencing her mini-slump, explaining that her tendency to overthink things may have had something to do with it, and that her hard work is what got her through it.
“I think she just works hard,” Hankins said. “She’s a big time thinker, sometimes an overthinker, and I think earlier, I think she has a hitting coach that was adjusting her hitting a little bit. I, of course, didn’t think anything was wrong with the way she was hitting, but he was tweaking something, and I think she was just overthinking. She’s worked through that, and she’s come back around.”
Part of the reason for her impressive performance against Lampasas may have been her familiarity with the pitcher. Lampasas’ starting pitcher against Liberty Hill, Cally Reding, plays on Truax’s select team in the offseason.
“I was really excited to go up against her,” Truax said, “because she’s one of the pitchers that I really like to hit off of. I was just seeing the ball really well that night, overall, off both pitchers.”
Truax declined to offer any friendly smack talk to her select teammate after the game.
“No, I did not,” Truax said with a laugh. “I knew she really wouldn’t want to talk to me after that.”
In addition to catching fire at the plate, Truax has focused her efforts on becoming more of a vocal leader, understanding that with only two seniors on the roster, some of that responsibility lies on her, as well.
“I think I’ve become more vocal out on the field,” she said. “One thing we can improve on is that we need to communicate more. That’s really made a difference on some plays, and I think it really would’ve made our game even better.”
Truax credited the Panthers’ bullpen for their incredible run, explaining that to prepare for a more difficult postseason, she expects Coach Hankins to have the batters practice more often against their own pitching staff that has dominated district play thus far.
“We know that in playoffs, it’s going to get harder,” Truax said. “We’re not really seeing the best pitching during district, so I think Hankins will probably have us hit off of our pitchers to prepare us for that.”
She also explained that the Panthers’ powerful performances at the plate have become contagious. The hitting has apparently spread like wildfire, as a number of Panthers have stood out with multi-home-run games already in district play.
“Our offense is hitting very well, and hitting will spread,” she said. “It makes everyone else want to hit, and that’s really what’s made our team stand out in district.”
It’s easy to see that the Panthers performances on the field have been stellar, both on offense and defense. It’s been somewhat of a trend, however, for Lady Panther softball players to attribute their success to being closer off the field. Their team chemistry has been the difference-maker this season, compared to seasons past, which is a sentiment shared by each of the players that have returned from last year’s varsity team.
“This year, I think our continuity is so much stronger,” Truax said. “We’ve played better as a team, and I think we’ve grown way closer. I think we’ve got a good shot at going pretty far this year.”
How far, you ask? Truax and the Lady Panthers, who boast an undefeated 8-0 district record and 23-1-1 overall record, have their sights set on a state championship.
“We feel like if we play like we’re supposed to play, we’re going to get there,” Truax said.
The Panthers sit atop the district standings as the only undefeated team, and not a single district game has been close. As Truax put it, the Panthers have been “blowing district out of the water.” She doesn’t use that phrase lightly.
Seven of Liberty Hill’s eight district games have been shutouts, and they’ve outscored their district opponents by a combined total of 106-3. At this point, the key is to remain focused during a stretch of games that has seen so many blowouts. The trick, according to Truax, is not to underestimate anybody, regardless of their record.
“Our big thing is that we never underestimate a team,” Truax said. “We always expect the best that they can play, so we raise our standards each time that we play a team.”
While they keep their goal of a state championship in the back of their minds, Truax added that Coach Hankins has done a fantastic job of making sure the team keeps the “little things” in check as they take the season one game at a time.
“She keeps telling us to focus on the little things,” Truax said of Hankins’ message. “We’ve been doing so well at accomplishing the big things and making sure we’re on top of those things, so it’s making sure we have the little things, like talking in between each play, making sure that second or shortstop has a certain bag in a certain situation.”
The Panthers hold the number one ranking in the state of Texas at the 4A level, according to the Texas Girls Coaches Association as of April 3. Truax’s rediscovered offensive firepower will no doubt be a welcome addition to an already dominant Panther offense.