May 13, 2010
By Jon Cooper
When you’re 19 years old, there’s a time and a place to think about your future.
Third base on the softball field doesn’t really qualify as one of those places – especially where Danielle Dike plays it.
For Dike, who plays in tight enough that she could probably tell what kind of mouthwash opposing hitters have used, the more pertinent question seems less what she wants to do with her life than how long she wants to continue living it.
Yet, the sophomore from Scottsville, Va. and former Central Virginia Player of the Year, Jefferson District Player of the Year and second-team all-stater, prefers working in closed quarters.
“I honestly love it. I love being right there up close to the batters and being in their face,” she said, with a laugh. “All throughout high school, actually before high school, I played a little bit everywhere. When I got to high school they were like, ‘You’re going to go to third.’ I was like, ‘Okay, sweet.'”
Sweet could describe Dike’s 2010 season, which has seen her stabilize third base, a position that’s been played by four Yellow Jackets in all (Dike, Kristen Adkins, Caitlin Jordan and Shannon Bear) and had lived up to its nickname, “the hot corner,” as it had been too hot for anyone to handle on a regular basis.
“We’ve been rotating a bunch of different people through there and she pretty much is the one that really took hold of it,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins. “Now she just kind of owns it. She’s done a great job. She’s made all the routine plays and made some pretty phenomenal plays, too.”
Dike’s wielded a hot glove (fielding .926 with only four errors in 50 chances), and has swung an even hotter bat. She finished the regular season hitting .282 (sixth on the team), while slugging .648 (fourth, actually .04 higher than Hope Rush), with an on-base percentage of .370 (fifth). She also hit in the clutch, hitting .323 with two outs (fourth on the squad).
The sophomore really turned it on in conference play, as she finished in the top 10 in the ACC in homers (five, seventh, and tied for fifth on the team), on-base percentage (.400, ninth), and slugging (.705, seventh).
“What I like about her at the plate is that she’s not afraid to swing,” said Perkins. “She doesn’t go up there unsure. She goes up there looking for certain pitches and kind of has a calm at-bat. But when she sees her pitch, her eyes light up and she takes a good hack at it. She’s not afraid to get her swings in.”
Dike was fearless in the late-April series against Florida State in Tallahassee, when she hit .500 (6-for-12) with three homers, five RBI, two game-winning hits, four runs scored a 1.250 slugging percentage and .571 OBP. Her efforts earned ACC Player of the Week honors, the third different Tech player to do so (joining Jen Yee, who has done it five times and Kristine Priebe, Rush has twice been pitcher of the week) and, more important, helped Tech take the series from the Seminoles and clinch a second straight ACC regular season title.
Can this really be the same Danielle Dike who hit .222 with one homer, an OBP of .313, a slugging percentage of .481 and a fielding percentage of .800 last year?
Yes, in name only.
“She’s a hard worker and she was really striving,” said Perkins. “She’s made a lot of changes, she’s worked really hard, she’s come in for extra work. She wanted to earn the position and now she’s definitely earned the position. She came in and just took it over.”
The turning point came while she was home last summer.
“I was working out with my strength coach,” she recalled. “He was like, ‘So what are your goals? You know that you can do this, right?’ I just looked at him and was like, ‘Heck, yeah, I can.’ From that day on, my main goal over the summer and over the fall was. ‘I’m going to get the starting position. I’m going to work my butt off to do that.'”
She’s done that and has been a major contributor to the squad that heads into next weekend’s ACC Tournament as the top seed, having won all seven conference series, five of them by sweep, and is 18-4 with her at starting at third.
Dike thinks so.
“We’re just good. That’s it,” she said. “No matter who’s on the field we know we’re always going to do our best and the outcome is just winning.”
“I think she’s part of it,” said Perkins. “I know that there was a time where it was just like, ‘Wow, she’s figured it out.’ I remember talking about it at practice, ‘Look, that’s what I love, Danielle out there just figuring it out, laying it all out there.’ I remember it was just like one thing. Boom. She just had it. She hasn’t looked back since.”