For Alex Haley, even the mundane can be worth something on the softball field. It’s even interesting for her when a batter swings and misses or takes a pitch.
It’s why the Steinert High senior became a catcher early in life with the Hamilton Hurricanes.
“I started catching probably when I was nine,” Haley said. “I played the outfield for years and then I switched over to catching because my team needed a catcher and I showed a love for it. When I was 10 we just needed one so I just stepped in to do it.
“I liked being involved with every single play. That’s my favorite part. Some of the other positions you’re just standing around, you’re not really involved. But at catcher, even when the batter misses the ball you’re always involved.”
Haley’s involvement helped Steinert to some rarefied air during her first three seasons. The Spartans reached the state finals her freshman year and won the Tournament of Champions the following season.
Haley was a part-time player during those two years, but still contributed by going 36-for-92 (.391) with seven doubles, two home runs, 23 RBI and 30 runs scored.
When Jenn Melker took over last year, Haley became the regular receiver and responded with a standout season. She was 29-for-70 (.414) with seven doubles, two triples, four home runs, 27 RBI and 28 runs, while forging a .529 on-base percentage and .714 slugging percentage.
Her efforts helped propel Steinert to the Mercer County Tournament championship.
After two years of worrying a bad effort may reduce her playing time, Haley decided to just let her ability take over and her mind take a break.
“I think I took some pressure off myself,” she said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself two years ago when I kind of struggled. Last year I let it go. I think that helped me. Because of that I tried to do my best and went out and did what I could. I had a ton of fun last year. I think that’s a big key for me, just to have fun.”
While it appeared that Haley did not make her full-fledged presence felt until last year, Melker insisted that was not the case.
“I don’t know if it’s been a gradual thing with her; she’s been a stellar part of this team and an unbelievable part of this team since I came on as an assistant when she was a freshman,” the coach said. “I think she’s always been a standout player. Sometimes even not getting in, being a player behind the scenes in what you do for your team at practice still comes into play and she’s been just a stellar athlete.”
Although the spring season is in peril due to the coronavirus, if games are played Haley and Bella Truelove will form one of the most dangerous slugging tandems in the Colonial Valley Conference. As a sophomore last year, Truelove belted 12 homers and had 51 RBI.
The two won’t always be back-to-back, however, due to Haley’s versatility.
“I moved her all over to different spots last year when I needed someone to kind of get it up and going,” Melker said. “I put her in the clean-up area as well. She produced in both areas, she never lets that spot in the lineup get in her head; where some kids, if you move them up or move them in that fourth spot you get that stigma of “I have to get the big hit.’
“Alex executes every at-bat differently and takes whatever we tell her to heart and educates herself every at-bat. She doesn’t really fall into making the same mistake over and over. She tries to make that adjustment.”
While her hitting gets the headlines, what lifts Haley from a good player to a special player is her defensive abilities at one of the game’s most important positions.
“Catching is like the quarterback of football,” Melker said. “She is the game controller, regardless if you have the most stellar pitching. As a coach I like to instill knowledge in them, so it’s not just me telling them what to do every single play, every single time.”
Haley lives by that creed.
“Alex is such an unbelievable athlete in that aspect, in the sense that I can really trust her to control the game and understand the game,” Melker said. “As a coach, you tweak things here and there but she really understands what’s going on. She can see the whole field and make calls and move people and even call the game for the pitcher.”
While many high school coaches insist on calling the game, Melker will sometimes allow Haley to call an entire game on her own.
“She’s called games before without me having to bat an eye,” the coach said. “She’s very educated.”
That doesn’t happen by accident. Haley prides herself on being a student of the game. She will sit on the bench during a game and watch the other team’s pitcher; and behind the plate she observes each hitter.
“I make sure I know everything I can and I’m always learning new things if something comes up,” Haley said. “I like to make sure I know where the ball should be going, where people should be, that type of thing.”
Aside from that, she has to serve as the pitcher’s confidant and comforter. For years she caught Kaylee Whittaker, who graduated last year, and the two had great cohesion. She also adjusted to catching fellow senior Delaney Misier, who will pitch for Alvernia next year.
“I think it just takes a little time to understand how they are,” Haley said. “I’d been catching Kaylee for years before I came to Steinert so I already knew her tendencies, I guess you could say. With Delaney it took a little while to know how to keep her calm, keep her throwing strikes, that type of thing. You just have to get used to the person and make sure you have a good chemistry with them.”
Melker feels that Haley has a great knack for knowing what pitches are working early in a game, and what pitches to stay away from. She also likes the way her catcher can steady a pitcher when the situation warrants.
“Every pitcher sets the pace of the game, so Alex can kind of control that if she feels they’re getting off tempo,” Melker said. “She’s gotta run out there and gain control again. She’s good at knowing when she has to do that for different pitchers.”
Haley’s abilities made her a prized recruit for several Division III colleges, and she finally chose Susquehanna.
“I just kind of looked at my options and realized this is where I want to be, this is where I could see myself for the next four years,” she said. “I was heavily looking at some other schools, but I just always had a preference for Susquehanna, I wanted to go there.”
And if her catching prowess has proven anything, it’s that Haley makes smart decisions.