High School Sports

Bellefonte freshman Mallorie Smith exceeding expectations, catching opponents by surprise

Bellefonte's Mallorie Smith takes a swing at the ball during a game against Huntingdon Monday, May 22, 2017 at Bellefonte.
Bellefonte's Mallorie Smith takes a swing at the ball during a game against Huntingdon Monday, May 22, 2017 at Bellefonte. psheehan@centredaily.com

When 5-foot-3 freshman Mallorie Smith digs into the batter’s box, there’s always someone to shut up.

She can’t hit it that far.

Oh, she’s going to bunt.

Watch the slap.

“Whenever the No. 9 hitter steps up, everyone thinks it’s an easy out,” Smith said with a grin.

But that’s not the case with Bellefonte softball’s secret weapon.

Smith isn’t just a slap hitter, and her job doesn’t limit her to bunting teammates to the next base. Out of the last spot in the order, she’s hitting .357 and, in 56 at-bats, the lefty has struck out twice.

Smith has been crucial to Bellefonte’s 18-4, district-title winning season — and, as the Lady Red Raiders start their run through the PIAA Class 4A playoffs on Monday, she figures to have a prominent role.

“She’s stepped right in,” Bellefonte coach Fred Caldwell said of the freshman. “Mallorie is one of those kids that just enjoys everything she does. She doesn’t have any fear. Every at-bat, she’s up there smiling. She has fun. She doesn’t have any second thoughts in her mind.”

Caldwell saw that approach back in January at offseason gym workouts. He was impressed by Smith’s speed and ability to slap hit — and pleasantly surprised with her power at the plate.

“She’s got some pop,” Caldwell added. “She can hit it harder than most would expect.”

Most would expect a slap hit or bunt single — and Smith does slap hit on occasion. But as a batter, she’s more than that. In 22 games, Smith has 11 RBIs.

So when first and third basemen cheat up, assuming she can’t hit it out of the infield, it touches a nerve.

“It kind of gets to me a little bit,” Smith said, smiling. “What I usually do is when they come up, I’m thinking about hitting it right past their face. That’s what I try to do honestly. Hit it right to that hole. Hit it right past their face so they have to back up. And they usually do.”

Pretty bold coming from a freshman.

However, that self-assurance doesn’t surprise those closest to Smith. Not in the slightest.

Despite her rookie status, the speedster’s not foreign to varsity athletics. In the fall, Smith scored 28 goals for Bellefonte soccer, setting a single-season program record. In the winter, Smith helped guide the Lady Red Raiders’ basketball team to its first PIAA tournament appearance since 2010.

“She had confidence coming in here,” senior centerfielder Angela Capparelle said, “and it’s showing.”

Caldwell calls her a “semi-leadoff” hitter, and she’s thrived in the No. 9 spot, turning over the batting order with a .400 on-base percentage.

When needed, she’s used that deceptive power, too. Smith drilled a two-run double in the district semifinals, opening the scoring for Bellefonte in a 8-0 win over Huntingdon.

Though, she topped that in the next game.

Smith lined a ball to left-center in last week’s district title game against Somerset. The centerfielder laid out for it, but completely missed the ball, which rolled all the way to the wall at Nittany Lion Softball Park.

Smith wasn’t looking at where the ball was but was shocked while rounding second and heading to third.

Caldwell was waving her home.

“I’m like, ‘What are you doing?’” Smith remembered.

Her coach thought about holding her at third for a split-second. “But she’s really fast, and that might be the only chance she gets to have a home run at Penn State,” Caldwell said. “So, at that point, we’re ahead. Let’s roll the dice.”

And it wasn’t even close. Smith slid home, smiling cheek to cheek, for an inside-the-park home run.

“She made me look like a smarter guy than I am,” Caldwell said, laughing.

Her focus now is on the Lady Red Raiders’ PIAA first-round matchup with Yough, District 7’s No. 2 seed. But the freshman, after a stellar inaugural season, knows more success is on the horizon.

She’s got the speed, has the pop and owns the attitude.

Smith might have been overlooked by opponents this year — but that’s not going to continue.

“I think she’ll be better than she already is. She’s better than me and I’m a senior,” Capparelle said. “There’s no telling what she can do in the next couple of years.”

John McGonigal: 814-231-4630, @jmcgonigal9