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Rhoades doing what it takes for South Park

| Friday, May 7, 2004

Senior Stacey Rhoades is most comfortable at shortstop, but her work as a pitcher has South Park atop the Class AA rankings.

Imagine what South Park senior softball player Stacey Rhoades could do if pitcher was actually her position of choice.

Rhoades' future and her heart are at shortstop, but her present position is on the mound, where she is one of the WPIAL's top pitchers and a key part of the top-ranked team in Class AA.

"The funny thing is she's actually a better shortstop than a pitcher," South Park coach Scott Shipley said.

That is where she will be next fall at Slippery Rock, but she's not complaining about her current place on the mound.

"It would be nice to get more playing time there (at shortstop)," Rhoades said. "But you have to put girls in their best positions. I've always felt more comfortable at shortstop."

Rhoades said being in on every play is what drew her to try pitching, and she is at the heart of South Park's recent success. She threw a shutout and hit a game-winning triple in the Eagles' 1-0, 8-inning victory over Center in last season's WPIAL championship game.

"I'm not going to lie, I love pressure," Rhoades said. "You always want the bat in your hands when the game is on the line. You always want to be the person who wants to win the game. Never be timid."

Shipley pointed to Rhoades' approach as a key to her success.

"She is unbelievably focused, mature and competitive," Shipley said. "She shows absolutely no emotion. She doesn't let anything bother her."

Rhoades is 12-2 this season with 118 strikeouts after running her string of shutout innings to 62 with a four-hit shutout of South Fayette on Wednesday. She has walked only six batters and given up two extra-base hits, both doubles, to go with a 0.15 ERA. Rhoades also bats in the No. 3 spot for South Park, hitting .523 with 15 RBI, seven doubles among her 22 hits and 20 stolen bases.

"I hate stats," Rhoades said. "I hate them. The only thing I look at is my ERA. I'm not a strikeout pitcher. I just know if we're winning, we're doing our jobs. I use my defense all the time. I know I can count on my teammates."

"Over that (shutout) span, our defense is doing its job, too," Shipley said. "She's got 43 assists, so she's fielding a lot herself. If you've got a good infield with a good pitcher, you can win a lot of games."

It also helps to have the right catcher to work with the pitcher. Rhoades and said she and senior Kellie O'Brien have been playing together for nine years. When they were freshmen, Shipley not only made them starters, he let them call their own pitches.

Rhoades insists pitchers in general, and she in particular, get too much attention.

"I know I have one of the best catchers in the WPIAL," Rhoades said. "She works as hard as I do if not harder. She is fantastic. I never shake her off. Maybe once every two games or so. We just have such a great rhythm together."

Rhoades and O'Brien are two of seven starters who returned for the Eagles this season along with second baseman Nikki Kaschauer, shortstop Sara Oxenreiter, first baseman Amanda Beinack and outfielders Kari Zeleznick and Jackie Braszo, so it should be no surprise to see South Park ready to defend last year's WPIAL championship. That is a change from last year, when the Eagles made their run after missing the playoffs the previous two seasons.

"We really want it bad," Rhoades said. "We're aware everyone is out to get us because we won last year. No one really expected us to do much last year. We snuck up on everybody. Now everyone knows what we're capable of doing."

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