March 19, 2014
By Jon Cooper
The Good Word
Maddie Lionberger is the same person she was last year in that she brings the same skill set and the same work ethic to Mewborn Field every day.
But she’s not the same.
There’s a swagger and a confidence. It’s obvious every time she steps to the plate or runs out to second base.
“I just feel a lot more confident being out there. I think it has a lot to do with having a year under my belt and knowing what to expect,” said the sophomore from Austin, Texas. “I think I came in a little bit timid my freshman year and not really knowing what to expect. But now that I’m a little bit more comfortable up there it’s a lot easier just to go out there and have fun. I think that has a lot to do with how I’ve been playing this year compared to last year.”
There really is no statistical comparison.
Last year, as a freshman, Lionberger hit .195 in 43 games (25 starts), with two homers, 12 RBIs and six total extra-base hits.
This season, heading into yesterday’s midweek doubleheader at NC State, she had already roared past last season’s totals for hits, triples, homers, RBIs, and stolen bases with a .317 batting average. Her seven multi-RBI games tied senior Alysha Rudnik for team lead and her four multi-hit games tied freshman Kanani Cabrales for fourth on the team. In ACC play, she led the team, batting .458, was tied for the team lead in hits (11), was second in RBIs (9), and total bases (24), and tied for second in runs (5) and homers (2).
She ranks in the ACC’s top 25 in batting, is ninth in slugging percentage (.667), and is tied for the lead in triples (3) and is coming off a big weekend last weekend at Maryland, when she hit .714 in three games (5-for-7), with two runs and four RBIs. Two of her five hits were triples, that came in back-to-back at-bats in Saturday’s first game.
“Last weekend I was excited every at-bat to come up because I was just really seeing those pitches,” Lionberger said. “Every at-bat was fun and exciting.”
She made the triples really exciting.
“The triple is a hard one to get, so I was kind of surprised when I got two in one day,” said Lionberger, who didn’t have one last season. “When I got my first triple, I saw the ball go to the fence. I don’t know if Coach wanted me to come to third but I made it up in my mind so I was bookin’ it to third base.”
The back-to-back three-baggers accounted for three of four runs in back-to-back two-run innings in the 7-4 win. In the second game, her two-run single in a three-run third blew open a 1-0 game in a 4-1 win and, finally, on Sunday, she singled and walked in the seven-run fifth-inning uprising that turned a 2-0 deficit into a 7-2 lead as the Jackets completed the sweep, 7-6.
“I have confidence in all the batters that go up but with here, I have that much more confidence,” said centerfielder Hayley Downs. “She’s been so clutch. I can’t tell you how many times she’s been the momentum-shifter for a game that might not have been going our way but she gets that one hit. The one hit from Maddie can really change the momentum of our games.”
Lionberger has gotten opponents’ attention and is earning the respect of opposing pitchers, but in a little different way. She’s also among ACC leaders in getting hit by pitchers, having been plunked four times.
“I always think that’s a funny stat,” she said. “I guess I stand on the plate so those pitchers that aren’t afraid to come in on you, sometimes you’ve just got to take them.”
Her ability to handle things also has impressed.
“Maddie works extremely hard at practice and absorbs everything the coaches say and goes out and makes the adjustments,” said Head Coach Shelly Hoerner. “Her positive mentality has helped her become very successful this year. She hates to lose so she does whatever it takes to help the team win. Maddie’s hard-nosed attitude and fiery personality on the field makes her a true competitor and I love that about her.”
Lionberger has found love, playing at second base, even though she originally pictured herself at shortstop.
“I was really all over the place last year,” she said. “So it’s kind of nice to focus on second base this year. I came in, `I want to play shortstop’ but I’ve actually grown to like second base.”
Getting the opportunity to play next to fellow Texan, and 2013 ACC Player of the Year, shortstop Ashley Thomas, has enhanced the experience of playing her new position.
“I love working with Ashley,” Lionberger said. “I love just observing her sometimes and just trying to mimic her footwork or throw how she throws. I really like playing so closely to her because she’ll lean over and give me some great pointers. So it’s really great.”
Teammates have found that observing Lionberger has been great.
“She’s so fun to watch,” said Downs. “I’ve loved watching her this whole season. At second base, she didn’t play there much last year, so it’s relatively new for her. She’s coming in and she’s just doing her job. She’s been great.”
Lionberger is happy to continue doing her job, enjoying every game along the way.
“I’m just going up there, taking my hacks and just being more confident,” she said. “It’s always a lot of fun when you’re doing well. Not to mention that the team is doing great. We’re just on a roll and that’s really fun.”
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