By Mike Schoeffel
Abby Covington’s favorite softball memory was hitting her first home run at the age of 12.
It’s in the pitcher’s circle, however, that Covington is making her most notable contributions to the Liberty Hill varsity softball team this season.
Though just a sophomore, Covington is 14-1 with a hair-thin 1.38 ERA, striking out 88 batters along the way. She and fellow shut-down gunslinger Amber Wiggins make a “great pitching duo” that “keeps teams adjusting throughout the game,” according to Head Coach Charice Hankins. So far, that’s been precisely the case: The Panthers are 34-1-2 and have allowed just 31 runs all season.
Liberty Hill is gearing up for a three-game, Class 4A, Region III semifinal series against Little Cypress-Mauriceville starting on May 18. Though the Panthers will be favored, Covington isn’t taking them lightly.
“It’s clear they’re tough competitors,” she said. “We need to bring our A-game to bring home the win.”
Covington has possessed her A-game in the circle nearly every time she’s entered it this season.
Hankins specifically praised her performance in the quarterfinal round against Waco Robinson, saying that Covington “had their batters really off-balance” and that she “kept our defense in the game.” Speaking of defense, Covington has come to appreciate the support of the seven gloves behind her — when she’s not mowing down batters, that is.
“I know they have my back, so I can go out there and do the best I can,” she said. “When I leave one fat over the plate, this defense gobbles up the ball and makes plays.”
Covington is one of only a few underclassmen on the varsity roster. Hankins said she decided to promote Covington to varsity, despite her youth, because she’s a “hard worker” and a “smart player.” As the season has moved from non-league play to league play, and now into the playoffs, Hankins has watched Covington blossom into one of the most dominant pitchers in all of Class 4A.
“Abby is maturing,” said Hankins. “She’s growing in confidence and coming in and controlling her innings.”
Covington has leaned on seniors Joely Williamson and Sam Barnett to aid in her growth as a player. She said that the duo “encourages me and the team, cheers during our success, and lifts us up when we are not so successful.” Both players will continue their playing careers at the Division I level: Williamson is headed to Utah State, while Barnett will attend UConn.
“I will miss them both when they graduate,” said Covington.
Covington, 16, has had a number of softball mentors since she started playing tee-ball at the age of five, not the least of which are her parents, who she says have “helped me become the player I am today.” She also spoke highly of her catcher, Lauren Macias, who she grew up playing alongside.
“She gives me pep talks every time I go out to pitch,” she said. “And she catches me, on and off the field.”
Covington’s interest in softball sprang from a desire to emulate a sibling.
She remembers watching her older sister, Aubrey, play the sport and recalls wanting to “be like her.” When the younger Covington first began playing, she wanted to do it strictly for fun, but as she started going further and further in select tournaments, she discovered she had a knack for the sport, and decided it was something that she wanted to do through college.
Since then, softball has certainly been more than just a recreational pursuit for Covington. It’s been a source of wisdom that she can apply to other areas of her life. The most important lesson she’s learned from softball, she said, is how to work with people that she may not necessarily get along with.
An applicable life skill, indeed.
“I have learned to respect their abilities and what they bring to the team,” she said. “ I know I can count on them, as they can count on me, in a pressure situation.”
The pressure situations will continue to mount as the Panthers forge further and further into the postseason. If past success is any indication, however, Covington and her teammates won’t succumb to the anxiety. After all, she’s known since day one that this team was destined for greatness.
“From the start of the season I knew we would go far,” she said. “The chemistry is there, and that is important.”