|Converted infielders make their mark in the outfield|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
Feb. 27, 2004 -- Whitney Gideon settled under a short fly ball to leftfield last Saturday, made the catch, then rifled an across-the-diamond throw to first base to double off a Corsicana runner who had wandered too far off the bag.
SSHS head coach John McCullough has seen it all before.
That type play is what McCullough envisioned when he converted Gideon and Kristen Cross from infielders to outfielders three years ago. They're now beginning their third year as outfield starters.
He's also seen it from Cross, like in the 2-1 win over North Lamar when she was a sophomore. Cross hustled in from centerfield to cover second base on a popped-up bunt attempt and was there to take the throw and double off the runner to preserve the win.
"There's both extremely hard workers. They've done everything I've asked," McCullough said. "When we saw their athletic ability when they were sophomores, we wanted to get them on the field and in the lineup as much as possible. At the time, they needed to move to outfield to do that, and there was never any hesitation from either of them."
Now, given the choice, both of the senior girls would rather play in the outfield.
"The transition to outfield was different, it was definitely different," said Gideon. "When I was a sophomore, I started off in right field, then someone got injured and I moved to left field, and I've been there ever since.
"I'm more comfortable there now than in the infield. Yeah, I like the outfield."
McCullough said their knowledge of the game made the transition easier. Both girls have been playing softball since an early age, and they have played on the same team together for the last seven or eight years.
They've developed a chemistry not only in the outfield, but at the plate, where Cross leads off and Gideon bats second. In two games and two scrimmages this season, Cross has an all-important on-base percentage of .500, and Gideon is the ideal No. 2 hitter, McCullough said.
Though she's a natural right-handed hitter, Cross has taken up batting from the left side of the plate to better utilizes her excellent speed.
"When I get on first, I depend on Whitney to move me around, either bunting or fake bunting so I can steal," Cross explained. "I'm getting more used to batting from the left side and I feel comfortable now.
"I've been doing a lot of drills, working on my foot work and getting comfortable from that side of the plate. Coach McCullough has put me through some drills, and he's helped me a lot."
Saturday, she had a hit from both sides of the plate.
Gideon also had a hit and a sacrifice bunt. Last year, she led the team in doubles, proving she also has extra-base power.
"I really look for those two to set the table, get on base, move the ball around and put some pressure on the other team," McCullough explained. "When Kristen gets on, she's most likely going to get to second, either by a stolen base or bunt. Then, I feel like with the lineup we have, we should score that run."
McCullough knows it usually doesn't take too many runs to win a game with the pitching of Melissa McSheffery and Hollie Watson and the outstanding defense Lady Cat fans have become accustomed to seeing. That is especially true in the outfield.
"They've been out there so long, it's just instinct. They don't even have to think," the coach said. "When the ball's hit to the outfield, unless it's a line drive in the gap, I think it's going to be caught.
"They both have good speed, get a great read on the ball. I just think with those two out there, unless it's hit to the fence, I really think it's going to get caught."
McCullough lists Cross's speed and quick release and Gideon's great read on the ball and strong arm as their top defensive assets.
He also likes their competitiveness.
"I like competing against other teams. I hate losing," Gideon said. "Any kind of tight situation games, I like.
"I just want to always have a positive attitude, because I can get caught up in the moment and my competitive side comes out. I want all the girls to enjoy their last year and make it the most memorable."
For Cross, that would mean a trip to Austin.
"The one big goal for me is going to state and winning state. But, first we have to win district and get past regional quarterfinals. That's been a hard game for us in the past," she said. "I think we definitely have the talent this year, and it's just going to be a mental game for us."
Mentally, both Gideon and Cross should be able to handle it. They are both honor students, involved in the National Honor Society, Leadership class, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Methodist youth groups and Key Club.
It's that togetherness that McCullough says is special.
"Whitney and Kristen have been playing together I think since they were nine of 10 years old, and they've learned to read off each other. They kind of feed off each other," McCullough said.
"As a coach, you look for that kind of chemistry and that bond between players because when you get that, it's very special. You don't always get a group that likes to play together and feed off each other and really just enjoy being around each other. These ladies do."