BIGGER BAT, BIGGER CONFIDENCE

CHARLOTTESVILLE — Following an 0-for-4 performance against Indian Creek on May 11, Eastern Hancock slugger Micah Black refused to panic. Instead, the sophomore shortstop, who leads the Royals in home runs, hits and RBIs this season, kept her cool.

In a rout of South Decatur the very next day, Black’s composure would shine. After sending two home runs over the fence, Black collected five RBIs in a 3-for-3 effort at the plate.

“Confidence,” Eastern Hancock head coach Sue Anderson said, explaining the difference between this season and last for Black. “With Micah, one, her swing is pretty. She knows what she’s doing wrong. If she makes a mistake or doesn’t hit well, she is right back up trying to do the opposite of it next time.

“She knows what she wants to hit and specifically looks for that pitch.”

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As a freshman in 2015, Black finished with 20 hits, 18 RBIs and a .294 batting average in 23 games. She also hit one home run, four doubles and scored 15 runs for the 19-5 Royals.

In a breakout sophomore campaign, though, the tall and lanky underclassman has already registered 25 hits and 16 RBIs with a .431 average through 17 games. Her four home runs and nine doubles leads the team, as well, as does her 19 runs scored.

Even more impressive, Black has struck out just eight times in 64 plate appearances for the 14-3 Class 2A No. 16 Royals.

“I feel like the work I did over the winter helped a lot with my confidence in hitting,” Black said. “I got a new bat that is two ounces heavier and an inch longer. It has really helped me get more power behind the ball.”

Playing softball since the age of 5, Black, who plays for Team Nike Black out of Indianapolis during the summer, has also made an impact defensively for Eastern Hancock, switching from catcher and outfield last season to the everyday shortstop for the Royals in 2016.

According to Anderson, finding a home defensively usually helps keep a player’s mind at ease on the other side of the ball.

“She’s just been able to really focus at shortstop,” Anderson said of Black, who has committed just six errors this season. “She knows where she needs to be and comes to work and comes to learn.”

And offensively, she started the season on fire, booking hits in nine of the Royals’ first 11 games. There have also been just three games where the speedster has been held without a hit or run.

Recently, despite not registering a hit, Black scored a much needed first-inning run in a 2-1 win against Class 4A No. 17 Shelbyville, who was on a 13-game winning streak at the time and won a Hoosier Heritage Conference championship earlier this week.

“They played phenomenal and together, which was huge,” Anderson said.

The Golden Bears were also one of two teams to beat Class 3A No. 1 New Palestine this season.

And with Black and company, Eastern Hancock, currently riding a five-game winning streak, is primed for a deep tournament run, which begins on May 24 against Irvington Prep at the Triton Central Sectional.

Also making a significant impact offensively for the Royals this season are a pair of veteran juniors in Peyton West and Kaysi Gilbert. Both have 14 RBIs and six doubles as West leads the team in average (.463) and Gilbert leading in triples (4).

At the top of the lineup, senior Jordan Pierson provides a spark for the power hitters, like Black, who usually hits No. 3 or No. 4 in the lineup. Pierson has 18 hits and 14 runs scored this season.

On the mound, Darby Shaw (12-2) has held her own with a 1.22 ERA while hitting .345 at the plate with 19 hits.

“We have really tried to get the mentality, that we know the person behind us going to get on and have our back,” Anderson said. “This year we are really picking each other up. Having the confidence from their teammates makes this team go.”

By the numbers

Micah Black, Eastern Hancock Softball

Class: Sophomore

Position: Shortstop 

Batting average: .431 (17 games)

On base percentage: .476

Hits: 25

RBIs: 16

Runs: 19

Doubles: 9

Home runs: 4

Strikeouts: 8

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Kris Mills is a sports reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 317-477-3230 or kmills@greenfieldreporter.com.