Riverside softball coach John Fox readily admits that Lady Vikes sophomore pitcher Lacee Collins “makes me nervous”.
Not because of what she does in the circle, but for the fact the sophomore holds a black belt in karate.
“It’s tough seeing your number-one pitcher breaking bricks with her hands, especially during the season,” said Fox, who knows a thing or two about toughness having won more than 100 matches at West Scranton during his stellar wrestling career. “She’s a very intense kid, she works hard; she has that mentality.
“She’d probably be an outstanding wrestler.”
Collins has been involved in the martial arts for quite a long time, and has come back to karate after a lengthy time off.
“I started in second grade, and got my black belt in fifth grade,” Collins said. “I stopped for four years but picked it back up in February. I’m going to test for my second degree black belt next year.”
Collins has taken the discipline from her martial arts work and applied it to her pitching prowess, which has helped the Lady Vikes challenge for the Lackawanna League Division II title.
“It’s helped out a whole lot. It helped with my focus, determination and confidence,” Collins said. “Things don’t bother me. I focus on one thing only, so it has definitely helped me.”
That single-mindedness comes in handy while she’s in the circle, trying to hit the strike zone from 43 feet away with a lot of potential distractions.
It has also given Collins the courage to wield a wide arsenal of pitches to join an effective fastball.
“I tried to get better with pitches other than my fastball,” Collins said. “I had to get better with every single pitch.”
That meant a lot of work as the sophomore throws five other pitches to supplement her fastball – a drop, a changeup, a curve, a screwball and a riser. But, as Riverside’s record will attest, Collins’ sweat about her pitching has paid off handsomely.
“Right now I’m having a little trouble with the drop, but my riser was way behind the rest and I had to get better,” Collins said. “I was throwing my riser too high; it was going outside the strike zone. I had to get more spin and push it to the ground. I was able to get it more (consistent), now my riser goes to eye level.”
Her favorite pitch may well be the changeup, which looks like her fastball but comes in slower and has been very effective when she is ahead in the count.
“Her changeup keeps hitters off balance,” Fox said. “Being able to change speeds has helped her a lot, makes her fastball seem like it’s 90 (miles per hour).”
Mentally, Collins has shown the ability to handle stress and frustration, able to keep her cool as the intensity levels of a game heats up.
“I focus on every pitch; I don’t worry about giving up a hit or a run,” Collins said. “Of course, I don’t want to give up too many of either.”
With Riverside having reached the 10-win mark already, she hasn’t given up a lot of either.
Collins’ plate isn’t filled quite yet. The sophomore, who used to compete in cross country, intends to try and expand her athletic repertoire this fall.
“I’d like to try out for kicker on the football team,” Collins said. “I’ve played soccer all my life, and I have a strong leg. I know a guy who used to kick in college.”
Fox may be a little more nervous after he sees this.