New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
Expectations are high for the Neshannock High softball team this year.
Coming off a season in which they captured the PIAA Class AA championship, the pressure to repeat as champions — this time in Class A — weighs heavily on the Lady Lancers’ shoulders.
Fortunately for Neshannock, a star has emerged in the pitching circle.
Madison Shaffer not only has thrived as a sophomore and a first-year starting pitcher for the Lady Lancers, she again has made Neshannock the team to beat in the state.
With blazing pitch speeds and a devastating curveball, Shaffer leads a Lady Lancers’ squad that surrendered just two runs through the end of last week. In the process, Shaffer has collected three no-hitters in games decided by the mercy rule.
Her efforts last week proved her consistency, as she struck out 17 batters in an eight-inning 1-0 win over South Side Beaver, threw a four-inning no hitter in a mercy rule victory against Union and concluded the week with a five-inning, one unearned run effort against visiting Shenango in another mercy rule decision.
Shaffer’s dazzling performances have 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.
“She took over for a four-year starter this year. We thought she was going to be pretty good. She’s still in the working stages right now,” Neshannock manager Tracy Kimmel said. “I think overall, I’ve been pleased. I’ve been happy with the way she’s throwing. She’s a little faster and I think she’s going to get faster yet.
“There’s a lot of pressure on this girl. There’s a lot of pressure on the kids. There’s been a lot of pressure on these kids from last year. Everybody thinks we’re going to run through everybody, but it’s a new team and a new year. She’s going to be a good leader for us.”
Shaffer took over for Amanda Furst, a four-year starter and reliable presence in the circle for the Lady Lancers. The pressure to fill the shoes of her predecessor doesn’t perturb Shaffer, instead, she thrives on the lofty expectations.
“Pressure’s always fun to work under I think. I try not to let things get to me, but sometimes they do,” Shaffer said. “We all work hard. Mentally, it’s been a challenge this year, rather than just physically throwing hard. It’s more of a mental game now. Preparing for the game mentally and visualizing, I’ve had to do more of.”
The rising star spent most of her time as a freshman at third base, but she was able to see limited action as a pitcher. Not only the success, but the adjustment to the role has impressed her head coach.
“She’s really just coming on as a pitcher. We really had to change her mindset from last year,” Kimmel said. “It’s different when you’re a position player and you don’t have to think about the hitting so much. I noticed this year, she doesn’t seem as loose with the bat. I think that’s with the pitching end of things. Your mind has to be focused on the pitching. Like I told her, she’s a pitcher first and a hitter second.”
The mental focus and preparation for Shaffer this season was honed in the family basement, where she spends time every day refining her pitching technique.
“Wrist snaps are really important. I do an hour of wrist snaps every day,” she said. “My basement is all set up for it, so I go down there and we have a net and a couple of buckets of balls, and I’ll just pitch into that.”
The practice has paid off, as every time Shaffer snaps her wrist and releases a pitch, she delivers a dominating curveball that baffles hitters.
“I work really hard on the curveball. It’s probably one of my better pitches and one I’ve really been focusing on this year,” she said. “You can throw it for a strike or a ball at the plate. If you’re up in the count, you don’t really want to throw another strike because they’re expecting it. So, it’s nice to be able to have.”
Shaffer developed her passion for the sport from her family. Her father, Jeff, played baseball for Riverside and her mother, Judy, plays softball in church leagues. There’s another Shaffer on the way, as her younger brother, Jered, is making his way through the ranks as a seventh-grader at Neshannock.
Beyond her devastating fastball and game-changing curve, what might be the scariest thought to opposing batters is that Shaffer has all the potential and talent to get even better. She played on travel teams since she was eight, and only began pitching around her 11th birthday.
“She’s only 15 years old, and we have to keep that in mind when we are critiquing her and everything in the games,” Kimmel said. “That’s a factor. She’s still learning how to pitch. She has the speed, and when some of the other things come along, she’s going to be hard to deal with. She really is.”
THE MADISON SHAFFER FILE
KNOWN FOR: Shaffer struck out 17 batters in an eight-inning, 1-0 win over South Side Beaver, threw a four-inning no hitter in a mercy-rule victory against Union and concluded the week with a five-inning, one unearned run effort against visiting Shenango in another mercy-rule decision.
PARENTS: Jeff and Judy Shaffer
FAVORITE PRO PLAYER AND WHY: New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. “He works really hard and he’s really good.”
FAVORITE PRO TEAM AND WHY: New York Yankees. “They always seem to be so good and they have good team chemistry and work hard together.”
FUTURE PLANS: “I want to be an engineer. My mom is an engineer and I like math and solving problems.”