If you think Tara Baney simply has a passion for softball, you’d be wrong.
It’s more than that to Bellefonte’s rangy right-hander with the 60 mph-plus fastball and a newly-acquired, ankle-breaking changeup.
Her coach, Fred Caldwell, sometimes can’t even get her off the field.
“I’ll give them a day off, and she’ll call me and ask if she can come in and throw,” said Caldwell, whose daughter, Laura, has been a mentor for the senior.
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But loving a sport is not enough. There are countless athletes who love their sport, but that love is unrequited if they aren’t gifted enough to excel at it. Baney is.
And that’s evident to just about everyone she comes in contact with.
“She has the ability to do so much,” said Laura (Caldwell) Cunningham, the mentor who currently holds the school’s single-season strikeout record with 220. “I’ve heard her call out the plays; she is able to keep her composure. Whether she’s up or down, her face reads the same. You don’t see players who can do that very often.”
Added Jenna Ault, who’s caught for Baney since fourth grade: “It’s been cool to see her progress, learn new pitches. She’s been working on her change for a few years, and now she’s got it down. In a game last week (against Clearfield when Baney struck out 16) she threw the change, and the batter just stepped out of the box and shook her head.”
Pressure isn’t a factor for Baney. And there’s not a jam she finds intimidating. Against Penns Valley a little more than a week ago, the Lady Rams loaded the bases in the first inning.
The result? Bellefonte still won 3-0. “She bore down and got out of it,” Caldwell said. “She has faith in her ability.”
It’s a faith well-founded. Last year she struck out 170 batters and Caldwell believes 200 is within reach this year. Baney led the Lady Raiders to a District 6 title while posting a 15-5 record a year ago. Bellefonte lost to Yough in the PIAA quarterfinals.
Baney is more about wins, but she’s not shy about her personal goals either.
“I want to be better than last year,” the Bloomsburg commit said while sitting in the bleachers at Bellefonte’s O’Leary Field. “My goal is 200 strikeouts. If I can make that, it’d be awesome. If I don’t, that means I need to work harder.”
One aspect of her game that doesn’t need any work is her ability as a leader. It’s expected that a pitcher will automatically be a leader, just as a quarterback is in football. It comes with the position. But not everyone can fill that role. Too often egos get in the way. Not Baney’s.
“Even when she doesn’t say anything, people still follow her,” Ault said.
Caldwell echoed that sentiment, recalling the time Baney once called a timeout to bring the team into the circle.
“She takes charge,” Caldwell said. “I don’t have to go out there very often. We expect all of our seniors to be leaders, and she is one of the ones who has stepped up.”
Caldwell, who coached at Penn State’s Altoona campus and turned that program around by heavily mining Centre County for talent, sees a promising career at Bloomsburg for Baney.
It’s hard not to — especially with a fastball that’s already touching collegiate-level numbers.
Normally, Baney throws in the 62-63 mph range. Last summer, she was once clocked at 64 in a tournament. “When you get above 60 in high school, it’s very rare,” Caldwell added. “When you throw 64, you’re in elite company.”
If the Lady Raiders are able to win another district title this year Baney, will play a huge role in it — and not just with her right arm. She’s not one of the pitchers that forces a coach to use a designated hitter.
“It’s fun to be able to hit,” she said. “In some ways it is almost like pitching, because you’re competing with yourself. You want to put the ball in play, score the runners. That’s the name of the game.”
The game that she loves.
“I love the game so much. I never get tired of it.”
— Tara Baney, Bellefonte softball pitcher
“(Baney) is very special and unique. She is someone who can excel in every component of the game. And she’s the epitome of a teammate. She handles herself very well.”
— Laura (Caldwell) Cunningham, former Bellefonte pitcher and a mentor of Baney’s
“My favorite part is when I call a pitch and she hits her spot. Last year we were playing P-O at Philipsburg I knew as soon as we got on the field she was going to have a good day. She was firing every pitch and hitting every spot. That was awesome.”
— Jenna Ault, Bellefonte catcher