When the Franklin College softball team needs a hit, one player in particular always seems to deliver.
That would be sophomore Morgan Burch.
She began the season as a role player but, because of her consistency at the plate and efficiency in the outfield, quickly evolved into an every inning player.
“I had one job on this team, and that was to hit. I was completely satisfied with that,” Burch said of her initial role. “I just know I have to do what’s best for the team.”
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For the Grizzlies, the best thing is for Burch to start in left field or right field. She’s switched back and forth throughout the season, all the while being a force at the plate.
“She’s made the most of her opportunity, and the one thing that she’s really good at, she hits in the clutch,” Franklin coach Butch Zike said. “When you absolutely need her to come through, she does.”
And she does it despite a coping with a disease she’s dealt with for more than a decade.
Burch has type 1 diabetes, a serious form of the disorder by which her body produces little or no insulin — a hormone the body needs to get glucose to the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
Diagnosed at age 9, Burch initially had to give herself up to four insulin injections each day to maintain blood sugar levels but for the past several years has used an insulin pump.
She often plays and practices with the device, which delivers insulin into her body through a tube inserted into a port in her stomach.
“Instead of giving myself shots, it’s constantly giving me insulin, because my body produces little to no insulin, whatsover,” Burch said. “I just tuck it in the back of my pants, actually.
“No one notices.”
What spectators do notice is how she performs. Which lately has been especially impressive.
For the season, Burch is hitting .343 with three triples, three doubles, two home runs and 17 RBIs. Late last month, she hit for the cycle (a home run, triple, double and single) in a win against Berea.
Last week, she was named to the Louisville Slugger National Fastpitch Coaches Association Weekly Honor Roll after an eight-game stretch in which she hit .538 with a 1.038 slugging percentage. She drove in 15 runs, tallied seven extra-base hits and helped set the tone for what has been a torrid stretch of late for the Grizzlies.
Franklin (21-11) has won seven of its last 10 games and is — with four regular-season games remaining — one victory away from breaking the school record for single-season wins.
“She’s been a vital part of our offense,” Zike said. “She has a passion for the game, and she’s also a great teammate. She’ll cheer you on if she’s playing or if she’s not playing.
“The game of softball is important to her, but her teammates are probably more important to her.”
For those very reasons, giving up sports was never an option for Burch, who remembers the first time she realized something was wrong inside her body.
“We were actually on vacation with my family,” she said. “I wasn’t eating at all. I dramatically lost weight and was just drinking gallons and gallons of water at a time.
“I felt weak, and drinking all that water I had lot of urination and bathroom breaks.”
When the family returned home, they described Burch’s symptoms to her grandmother, who happened to be a type 1 diabetic. She recommended an immediate trip to the hospital.
Upon arrival, doctors were stunned by her dangerously high blood sugar level.
“They actually thought I should have been in a coma,” Burch said. “They were surprised that I was that responsive.”
Burch spent nearly two weeks in the hospital. During her stay, she learned about the disease; learned how to manage her diet; learned how to give herself injections; and, after learning she could still play sports, wasted no time re-joining her softball team.
“The day I got out, I went to my softball tournament,” said Burch, a Cascade High School graduate who played softball and basketball in high school. She never once considered giving either up.
But she did have to make some adjustments.
Special attention to diet was one. Regular breaks to check blood sugar levels was another.
“I played softball and basketball with all of this,” Burch said. “My dad was always my coach, so he would always have me go check my blood sugar.”
Her routine is much the same today, though no one notices.
“Every once in a while she’ll disappear, and what’s she’s doing at practice is checking her blood sugar,” Zike said. “She does that and does not make a big deal of it.
“And if it’s low, she says, ‘Coach, I’m going to do this, this and this,’ and I say, ‘all right,’ and she’ll wander back into practice.”
Although Burch doesn’t allow her disease to be a distraction, she goes to great lengths to assure others — especially recently diagnosed kids — that it is not an obstacle.
During the offseason, at the bequest of her doctor, she gives talks to young athletes with the disease to let them know they can still play sports and do all the things they did before the diagnosis.
“I let them know that it’s OK, that you can still play sports,” said Burch, an honors student and physical education major who plans to teach elementary physical education. “(Quitting sports) never crossed my mind. It’s not that terrible. I’m still the same person. I just have to watch myself a little better.
“It’s never stopped me.”
Nor does plan on letting it. She’s working to make sure the best is yet to come.
“You have to continue proving yourself. That’s all I work on,” Burch said. “I’m not like, ‘Oh, I have a spot.’ I don’t slack.
“I work to improve on what I’m doing so that I can keep the spot.”
Name: Morgan Burch
High school: Cascade
Favorite TV show: Keeping up with the Kardashians
Favorite movie: Sweet Home, Alabama
Favorite book: The Last Song, by Nicholas Sparkts
Major: Physical education and health
Career plans: To become a physical education teacher
Personal: Parents are Troy and Tonia Burch; has a sister, Alisha, 17
ABOUT TYPE 1 DIABETES
Previously known as juvenile diabetes, it is usually diagnosed in children and young adults.
Only five percent of people with diabetes have the type 1 form.
In type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin. The body breaks down sugars and starches into a simple sugar called glucose, which it uses for energy. Insulin is a hormone the body requires to get glucose from the bloodstream into the cells of the body.
With the aid of insulin therapy and other treatments, young children can learn to manage their condition and live long, healthy lives.
Source: American Diabetes Association