Updated Sat, Apr 5, 2014 1:39 pm
A young woman in modern body armor squats in the dirt, intently staring at her commander, who stands 40 feet from her. The young warrior donned in green and white gladly takes in the symphony of her fellow soldiers cheering her on from the dugout as she adjusts to get more comfortable.
She makes short hand signals that make her hands seem as if they are in perpetual fast-forward and only stops when her fellow soldier nods her head to acknowledge the decision.
Finally the commander rears back and releases a blazing fastball that lands safely in the warrior’s palm for the strikeout as the batter sulks away from the plate, discouraged.
The catcher is still staring in her pitcher’s eyes as the next batter takes her place but a sly smile creeps underneath her mask as the special connection she holds with her pitcher proves important once again.
Ohio’s Savannah Jo Dorsey, Lauren McClary and freshman catcher Madison Claytor epitomized this relationship early in the season and showed a great working relationship for this being Claytor’s only season with the Bobcats.
“We love each other,” McClary said, in reference to her relationship with Claytor. “We obviously have to have a really great relationship or it doesn’t work. It’s just a sister connection kind of thing between a pitcher and a catcher.”
Throughout the softball team’s campaign, growing pains between the main pitchers and the freshman have been minimal. And Claytor’s contributions heavily aided in the team beginning the season 12-1.
Onlookers can see this as Claytor commandingly squats behind home plate and seemingly takes the game over. The freshman from Salem, Va., looks almost passive as the batter takes her place in front of her and despite her youth she looks imposing behind the plate.
Pitchers often feel the most pressure to control the team’s fate — much like a goalie in soccer. If runs are scored, pitchers are often blamed for the errors and if mistakes occur, they predominantly fall on the pitchers’ shoulders because the pitchers are the orchestrators of the defense. But McClary tries not to let the pressure get to her and continues to play the game her way.
“Sometimes I feel like if a run gets scored, or anything like that, I feel like, ‘Okay, that was on me,’” she said. “It may not necessarily seem like that to others but that’s what like the pressure’s like to me. It’s like its constantly there.”
There were setbacks for the Bobcats after starting the season undefeated through their first seven games. They moved to 12-1 and proceeded to go on a seven-game losing streak and eventually ending up at 13-12 before regaining form.
But despite an early season stretch that saw them play 10 games in 14 days—and win only one—the relationship between Claytor and her pitchers has only grown stronger.
While pitchers often get most of the accolades, and the harshest of criticisms, the catcher is seldom mentioned. This is a player that effectively commands how the pitcher throws and where she should put it.
It can be a huge job for any athlete to establish such a relationship without really knowing her partner but Claytor was thrown into the fire within her first year and is all the better for it. The freshman starter only had the offseason to be acquainted with her pitching staff but feels like she’s been in Athens for a while.
“It was kind of overwhelming at first,” Claytor said. “Once I just got into a rhythm with [McClary and Dorsey] it was just like we had been with each other for a long time.”
As an added bonus, her relationship with the pitching staff seems to grow by the game.
Dorsey and McClary recognize this and feed off Claytor’s energy, but ultimately each of them have the same duty of being leaders on the field.
“There were definitely big shoes to fill,” Claytor said. “Even though I was young, it shouldn't matter because once you get on the field we’re all just there to do one job.”