Daily News Spotlight Athletes: Steel Valley's Derek Morrison, West Mifflin's Marla Small
School: Steel Valley
Claim to fame: Coming off Tommy John surgery last summer, Morrison will be the Ironmen's designated hitter this season. The junior has taken to the role very well so far, hitting .750 and helping his team to a 2-0 record (2-1 overall) in Section 4-AA.
“Derek has one of the fastest bats I've seen in seven years,” coach Tim Vickers said. “Certainly the fastest I've seen at Steel Valley. His injury makes it a little easier for us. He's always been a power hitter, but he's been working to be more of a contact hitter with power. He's been able to settle a bit and looks to hit the other way. He's been getting a ton of extra-base hits.”
Has it been difficult for you only being allowed to play one half of the game?
Well, I went to the doctor at the beginning of March expecting him to clear me to play the infield. So, when he told me to take it easy and just hit this year, I was a little upset, but my dad told me something I think was important. He said that if all you're allowed to do is hit, then you should do that to the best of your ability.
How do you approach each at bat?
I really haven't changed from previous years. I really just swing the bat. I've devoted more time to it this year, though my swing is a little more intact.
If you were able to play the field, which position do you enjoy most?
I was a starting pitcher and first baseman my freshman and sophomore years. I like pitching because I feel like I have more control over the game; I can control the pace more. First base is more of a hitter's position where I can play the field and focus more on my at bats.
Is it difficult to stay focused when you don't have to concentrate on playing defense?
I've been a designated hitter in the past and have had problems with staying focused. This year though, coach has a tablet with an application we can use to keep the book. It's pretty easy to use, and we switch it between players each inning. I've found that I can concentrate a little more on the pitchers and their timing. I focus on those kinds of things a little more.
What ballpark would you most like to play in?
Not because of any kind of hometown bias or anything, but I would say PNC Park. I really like the view of the city and the surroundings.
Do you have a favorite band or song?
I listen to all kinds of different music. Whatever is on the radio, really. I don't really have a preference.
Do you have a favorite professional or collegiate team?
I came across Coastal Carolina online one day and thought they had a funny mascot. I looked into them further, and I liked the school and found that they had a pretty good baseball team. I follow the Pirates as well.
Is Coastal Carolina somewhere you'd go for college?
Yes, but I would love to have the opportunity to play baseball at the next level anywhere.
School: West Mifflin
Claim to fame: Small has been anything but so far this season for the Titans. Through seven games, the senior is hitting .500/.538/.875 with two home runs, three doubles, 12 runs scored and 13 RBI. Small has also been stellar defensively, helping West Mifflin to a 6-1 overall and 3-1 Section 3-AAA record.
“Marla has been our starting shortstop for the last three years,” coach Casey Phillips said. “She started as our catcher as a freshman. She's also a team captain and definitely leads by example. She's a great teammate. She's selfless and will do whatever it takes to help the team win. I've never seen a better example of what ‘winner' should look like. Marla's also a great student. I think she has a 4.3 GPA, so she's getting it done in the classroom as well.”
You've hit the ball really well so far this season. Why do you think you've been able to do that?
This season I did a lot of tee work in the winter to get my mechanics down. I've tried to focus in the box a little more. Specifically, I've tried to focus on the ball coming out of the pitcher's hand this season more than I have in the past.
How are you able to juggle your academic and athletic work and do so well at both?
I think I just have good time management skills. After school, I go to practice. When that's done I try to get my homework done as soon as possible so I can get to bed early. When I'm done, I eat and go to sleep. That's my cycle.
What prompted the switch to shortstop your sophomore year?
When I was a freshman the team already had a shortstop, so I moved to catcher. I figured I might as well try somewhere else so I could play, so I decided on catcher.
Do you enjoy shortstop or catcher more?
I definitely prefer shortstop more. I feel like at shortstop, I get a lot more balls hit to me. As a catcher you're involved in every pitch, but at shortstop there's a lot more action. Also, as a shortstop you're a leader on the field. It's a guessing game, so you have to be on your toes and be prepared.
What are your expectations for the team this season?
Last year, we didn't do so well. I think we were 2-8 in the section, but I have very high expectations for this year. I feel like this is the best team we've had since I've been here. I feel like we're going to go far and hopefully win a playoff game. Our bats have gotten a lot better, and our lineup is very strong. Our pitchers are a year older and wiser.
What are your plans for next year?
I'm actually undecided between Wheeling Jesuit and Carlow University. I'm going to play softball as well, I'm just not sure where yet.
— Robert Stinner