DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
Taking some pressure off of herself has made all the difference for Center Grove High School senior Mallory Baker.
“Realizing I can’t do it all myself and realizing other people have to step up, too, makes it easier,” Baker said. “I’m trusting them way more than I used to do.”
The relaxed approach has made Baker a terror for opponents.
The left-handed first baseman is hitting .577 with 17 doubles, three triples, six homers and 43 RBIs. All are all team-highs for the third-ranked Trojans (28-2), who play No. 5 Lake Central (28-6-1) in Saturday’s Class 4A state softball championship game at Ben Davis High School.
“I’m relaxing and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played,” said Baker, who hit .378 as a junior. “It’s supposed to be fun, and winning is fun.”
Baker, who signed to play for Purdue in November, said this has definitely been her best season, at both the high school and travel levels.
“The credit goes to my teammates for making it so much easier on me,” she said.
Center Grove coach Russ Milligan said in his 24 years as head coach he doesn’t recall having a girl hit for such a high average for an entire season.
“You know how hard it is to .500, let alone .577,” Milligan said. “She was a upper .300 hitter for me for her first three years and was getting very frustrated. This year she just started hitting and never quit hitting.
“She decided to relax and have fun with it. While concentrating more on being a leader and holding the team together, that took her mind off what she was doing at the plate.”
Milligan said Baker is the player he depends upon to make sure everyone is on the same page.
“She’s taken her role as senior leader to a new level,” Milligan said. “She’s taken it more seriously. She’s taken greater concern with how the team has done than how she’s done, and consequently she’s done better.
“It’s taken pressure off of her because we do have a fine team.”
And now she gets to play her final high school game in the ultimate setting.
“You can picture yourself in this moment, but I don’t think it’s hit any of us that we’re actually going to be playing there because we’ve all thought about this since we were little girls,” Baker said. “We all went to those games and saw those girls playing, and we never thought it was going to be us.
“The fact we have a chance to run for the state ring is crazy.”
Baker followed the Trojans’ run to the state championship in 2009, the school’s fifth overall and fourth under Milligan.
Despite throwing left-handed, Baker played catcher for the Trojans until midway through her junior season, when she moved to first base after a player departed.
Purdue began recruiting Baker as a catcher.
“But ever since they found out I can play first base and outfield, they say play both,” Baker said. “They tell me to play as much as I can because they never know when they’ll need me at one of those spots.
“If I keep hitting and one of those spots is open and I prove myself, I feel I can take one of those spots.”
Baker played volleyball and basketball in middle school but gave both up in high school to concentrate on her No. 1 love of softball. She gets the competitive fire from her parents.
“Everything is a competition in our family,” Baker said. “I feel that’s what makes my drive so much more.”
Name: Mallory Baker
Favorite class: Business
Favorite type of music: Country
Favorite way to relax: “I like to sleep. I sleep all the time. I take naps.”
Favorite TV show: “Pretty Little Liars”
Favorite vacation spot: St. Petersburg, Florida
College plans: Will continue softball career on scholarship at Purdue
Major: Organizational leadership and supervision in School of Technology
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?: “I hope to still be involved in softball because that’s what I love. If I could be a college coach, that’s what I’d be. But I have to be realistic and focus on a real job before I focus on being a coach.”
Personal: Parents are Angie and Dave Baker. Angie (Wiese) played tennis at Center Grove, and Dave played football and baseball at Perry Meridian. Has a sister, Carly, 16, who plays volleyball at Center Grove, and a brother, Max, 13.