Deer Lakes senior Gozzard delivers when it counts
Katie Gozzard is fine with somebody using the ‘S' word to describe her performance in the batter's box earlier this season. It is no secret.
“Oh no, trust me, it was a slump,” she said. “You can call it that.”
It was that bad in the eyes of the Deer Lakes senior shortstop. And while a batting average dipping below .400 isn't a personal crisis for some players, Gozzard took it to heart.
A four-year starter and one of the team's two seniors, Gozzard wasn't getting the gap shots she was used to delivering. She was hitting the ball hard but right at people, right into the palm of their gloves.
While she doesn't say much on the field, she was visibly frustrated, even though the Lancers (19-1), the top seed in the WPIAL Class AA playoffs, kept winning.
But something clicked late in the season, and the rangy team leader appears to be back in form. She's back to playing Jeopardy with pitchers, hitting daily doubles.
The Lancers' No. 3 hitter has had an RBI-double in both playoff wins this season and will lead the Lancers into the semifinals Thursday against No. 12 Steel Valley (9-6) at North Allegheny.
Gozzard, whose average has risen to .389, never has been one to shy away from the stress of the postseason. Consider the opposite to be true.
She is known for producing in the playoffs and strives to live up to that reputation.
“I think maybe it's the pressure,” Gozzard said. “I like hitting with pressure.
Not that she made drastic changes to improve contact. Aside from switching to a longer and slightly heavier bat, Gozzard said, “I didn't change anything. I just kept working at it. I took a lot of reps in my free time.”
Gozzard's at-bats are precise. She waits for the perfect pitch and often produces a perfect result. She occupies the batter's box with the evenness of a ruler.
“She's a numbers girl,” Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani said. “That's what she's going to college for, so maybe that's why she likes those long counts. She drives me crazy with those. She is very patient at the plate.”
Deer Lakes can handle a few 3-2 counts made longer with foul tips, as long as it can clear the bases.
“Katie loves the big games,” Taliani said. “She is always contributing; she is always doing something to help the team.
“She is hitting with good pace. There is never panic when she's up there, and she believes in herself.”
Gozzard, a Penn State Behrend recruit, loves hitting at North Allegheny and so do her teammates. The Lancers will play their fourth straight semifinal there. She once had a 4-for-5 game at NA in a semifinal win over McGuffey.
Another big game could help propel the Lancers to their fourth straight title-game appearance.
“We're confident because the team has been there,” Gozzard said. “There's still pressure (in the playoffs). Everyone feels it. You just have to get outs and make plays.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at email@example.com.