NEW CASTLE —
It’s that special place batters can sometimes find themselves during the course of a season. The ball seems to be the size of a beach ball, a pitch left in the zone is greeted with authority and every hit seems to find a gap. It can happen several times during a career, while some may never get to experience the privilege in their playing days.
As the Neshannock High softball team prepares for the PIAA title game against Williams Valley at 3 p.m. Friday at Penn State University, the team’s second championship appearance in as many years, first basemen Alexandra Fischer finds herself in “the zone.”
“It all really started in playoffs,” she said. “I just tweaked one or two things to focus in on the ball and just kind of get my confidence back up from the regular season, make sure that I’m swinging the way I need to and not getting down on myself when something goes wrong.”
Fischer’s playoff performances have been nothing short of spectacular. As the postseason has progressed, with each game adding more weight and meaning, she’s managed to up her game another level.
As the state playoffs began last week, Fischer almost single-handedly did away with first-round opponent Elk County Catholic, hitting three triples in a row, driving in three runners, walking once and scoring three times en route to a 9-1 decision.
“It was the first time it’s ever happened,” she said. “I was excited. I’ve hit triples before, but not three in a row. It’s definitely one of the best times I’ve ever hit the ball.”
Over the weekend, Fischer was the only Neshannock player to collect more than one hit, slapping a single and a double and driving in a runner in a 6-1 defeat of Claysburg-Kimmel.
Opponents must be keeping tabs on Fischer’s hot streak. In yesterday’s 4-1 win against Southern Huntingdon to advance the Lady Lancers to the state finals, Fischer was intentionally walked in a crucial situation. It seems nobody wants to play with fire.
In her last three games, the junior has batted 6 for 9 with three triples, two doubles and four RBIs. That performance has earned her Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
THE MISSING ELEMENT
Standing at 5-foot-11 with a lean hitter’s frame, the physical tools always have been there for Fischer. And while she’s had a prosperous high school career up until now, she’s never quite had the success she’s enjoyed as of late.
“Confidence has a lot to do with it,” Fischer said. “In the beginning of the season, I was lacking confidence, and I feel that had something to do with the fact that maybe I wasn’t hitting as well. It definitely helps me when I’m up to bat, because that way, I know I can help the team out. I just feel that I know I can hit the ball.”
The production from Fischer has added more toughness to a Lady Lancers’ lineup that provides a threat from the first batter in the order to the last. The concept of one through nine, developed by coach Tracy Kimmel last season, has been one the team has bought into, believing that every batter through the order, one through nine, is capable of coming up big at any moment.
“That’s what we were looking for. She hits in the sixth-hole, and we have (Madison) Shaffer in the seventh-hole. That’s hard to get through,” Kimmel said. “We’ve got kids on base before that, and they knock them in. That’s what you want. You have to be just as solid at the bottom of the order as you are at the top if you really want to go a long way. I think that’s where we’ve had it over a lot of teams. After you get through about five hitters or so on the other team, then there’s a pretty good drop off. We pride ourselves on one through nine, that OTN. That’s what we’ve initiated here the last couple of years, and that’s what we go with. We believe in it. The kids believe in it.”
Fischer, who also plays basketball for Neshannock, finds herself second on the team with a .542 average, trailing only Rayanna Furst (.576) in that regard. She paces the team in doubles (11) and is second in triples (6).
Beyond the statistics, Fischer brings a leadership element to a team that isn’t short of the pressure of expectations.
“I try to keep the team together and make sure everybody is focused. I get off task sometimes and they keep me in line. I try to give everything I can for the team — fielding, hitting and just keeping everybody with their right head on,” she said. “If somebody gets down, I try to help them so they’re ready for their next at bat. That way, they can benefit and help the team as well.”
It’s Fischer who leads the team before each game and after each practice with a shout of “OTN, get it done!” to incite her teammates. While OTN, one through nine, isn’t something new, the inclusion of “get it done” to the battle cry is a unique twist this season.
“I started yelling it last year whenever the older seniors left and they needed someone to scream it. I kind of did it myself,” Fischer said. “Get it done just means to stay focused, get the task done at hand, don’t let anything get to us and just get it done.”
Neshannock has certainly gotten it done this season, winning games by an average score of 12-1, including 12 shutouts. While her bat may be smoking, the field also has been an area Fischer has been able to contribute.
“She’s great defensively, too. She’s very good. In fact, I went out and bought her a first basemen’s mitt when she moved up to ninth grade,” Kimmel said. “When I got her that first basemen’s mitt, she didn’t have one. I said yeah, you’re going to be over here for me. I went over to the Glove Doctor over in Ohio. He had about four or five first base mitts. I picked one out, and boy, she loved it. She’s had it ever since. She’s saved us a lot of runs and a lot of baserunners because she can go up in the air (with her height) and get them. She’s very agile around there.”
Fischer began playing in a 10-and-under slo-pitch league under Julie Burrelli, mother of current teammates Katie Burrelli and Cassidy Burrelli. Early bonds have contributed to an easy-going ballclub that can truly enjoy the work of each individual player.
“It means a lot. I know it means a lot to everybody else as well,” Fischer said. “Our school is very close, and I know we get a lot of encouragement from everybody, including the parents, the coaches and the staff at the school. It means a lot. We’re one family, because we are so close.”
To help her along in her development, Fischer leaned on her father, Ross, and her brothers, Ryan and Brandon, former baseball players. Ross played youth baseball in New York, while Ryan and Brandon played for the Neshannock baseball team.
“I would probably not be where I am now, starting out as a young girl, without them pushing me to do better —just playing catch outside every day and helping me with the little things that I need to do at home that couldn’t be done at practice,” Alexandra said. “So, I owe a lot to them.”
As Fischer continues to mold into a dynamic threat at the plate and in the field for the Lady Lancers, it’s hard for an outside observer to poke any holes in her game. Still, Fischer was quick to point out one flaw — her running ability. Asked whether or not she would have been able to stretch those three triples against Elk County Catholic into home runs had she been just a bit quicker, Fischer responded with a laugh.
“Maybe, but we’ll never know,” she joked. “Maybe if I was Ray (Furst), but I’m not that fast.”
THE ALEXANDRA FISCHER FILE
POSITION: First baseman
KNOWN FOR: In her last three games, Fischer is 6 for 9 with three triples, two doubles and four RBIs.
PARENTS: Ross and Andrea Fischer
FAVORITE PRO PLAYER AND WHY: Jennie Finch, former USA Women’s Softball pitcher. “She’s a good role model for everybody. She’s a very hard worker.”
FAVORITE SOFTBALL TEAM AND WHY: Oklahoma Sooners. “I like the Sooners because of (pitcher) Keilani Ricketts. I like to watch her play.”
FUTURE PLANS: Fischer is undecided as to what college she will be attending, but would like to do something in the medical field, preferably with animals.
NEW CASTLE —
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