By Andrew Stark
As easily as softball seems to come to Independence’s Lizzy Birch, even she had a difficult time explaining what led to her breakout sophomore season, when she burst onto the local and national scenes.
This year Birch hit safely in each of the Patriots’ games while recording an eye-popping .691 batting average that included 42 hits, 42 runs scored, 12 doubles, 12 RBIs, 12 stolen bases and three home runs. She moved back to second base – her natural position – and hit second in the Patriots’ potent line up, helping them to a 14-5 record and their second consecutive Southwestern 4A conference crown.
Following her success, the accolades started rolling in. Birch, who verbally committed to the Charlotte 49ers on July 15, was the conference Player of the Year and was one of 30 players from around the country selected to Maxpreps.com’s Sophomore All-American team.
Now Birch can add Carolina Weekly Newspaper Group’s 2013 Southern Mecklenburg Softball Player of the Year to her burgeoning resume.
“It’s a huge honor,” Birch said of her post-season honors. “It shows that my hard work is starting to pay off.
“I guess (this season’s improvement) just came down to me being more comfortable. I was more in my element as far as knowing everybody and getting to play my position. I think that’s really all it was – that and me having more confidence and just having another year of practice.”
As a freshman, Birch began her high school career in impressive fashion. She played the role of Independence’s table-setter, leading the Patriots with 16 walks and eight doubles while batting .385 and contributing 22 runs scored and 15 RBIs.
Although she played out of position in right field, Birch was one of several players who helped the Patriots claim their first regular-season league title in recent memory.
Birch added that she’s been working even harder this offseason, playing for the Team N.C. travel softball squad and attending camps around the state.
“I’ve been playing a lot of softball the last two summers – but this summer especially – and I think I can see it starting to pay off for me,” Birch said. “I think it’s helped me relax more at the plate. I used to overthink hitting, but when I go up to the plate I clear my head and don’t think about anything.”
While Birch can go to the plate with a clear mind, opponents are going to have to come up with a way to stop her. When next season rolls around, Birch said she’s determined to further raise the bar she set so high this season.
“I had a pretty good year,” Birch said. “I’m glad that we were able to be first in our conference again and that we did so well together.
“(But) I want to make sure I can keep it going (next year) and do even better this time.”