Dragons in the Flint Journal

Freshman Hayley Cruthers has led Swartz Creek's softball team into Metro League championship contention

, May 15, 2010 7:45 p.m.

Swartz Creek freshman Hayley Cruthers leads the Dragons in virtually every offensive and pitching category and is the main reason why the Dragons are in the running for the Metro League championship - (Greg Cruthers | For the Flint Journal)
Nicole VanCamp and the Swartz Creek softball team are in the running for the Metro League title - (Nic McNenly | For the Flint Journal)
Megan Photiou and the Swartz Creek softball team are hoping to build on the late-season success a year ago. - (Nic McNenly | For the Flint Journal)

FLINT, Michigan — Typically, a freshman would be nervous, if not intimidated, by starting on a varsity softball team from day one.

But it was just another trip to the ball diamond for Swartz Creek’s Hayley Cruthers.

The 14-year-old competed on the high-level Finesse Fastpitch travel team the previous four summers and had nearly 200 games under her belt before she took to the Dragons’ field.

“Travel ball has given me a lot of experience and enabled me to come into the varsity season strong,” Cruthers said. I don’t feel nervous at all. I feel like one of them.”

Cruthers leads Swartz Creek in virtually every offensive and pitching category and is the main reason why the Dragons have a 16-10 overall record, 7-5 in the Metro League.

“I wish I had five more of her,” Swartz Creek coach Rick Clolinger said. “She has a lot of smarts for playing ball. She is going to make a lot of noise in the next three years.”

Batting in the No. 2 spot in the team’s lineup, Cruthers has led the resurgence of the Dragons’ offense. Swartz Creek batted .273 as a unit last year but is hitting .333 this spring.

Cruthers is hitting .452 while also posting team highs in on-base percentage (.526), slugging (.726), hits (38), runs (36) and stolen bases (14).

The left-hander has only three strikeouts in 84 at-bats.

“Once I step into the batter’s box, I feel pretty comfortable and relaxed,” Cruthers said. “I try to go deep into the count and wait for a pitch I can drive in the gap or hit a line drive up the middle. I just put the ball in play.”

Swartz Creek is far from a one-girl show, with five girls batting .300 or above. Nicole VanCamp is second on the team with a .420 average, Meagan Photiou is batting .370 and Gabby Deering is hitting .333.

The Dragons have already scored 204 runs, one more than last year’s team and 34 more than the school’s 2008 squad.

“We’ve got some solid hitters and discipline is part of it,” Clolinger said. “A lot of it is seeing the ball and timing. We focus on hitting the ball solid and hitting line drives.”

Pitching is always a key component of a successful softball team and Cruthers has provided Swartz Creek with a reliable arm.

The 5-foot-6 rookie has a 9-2 overall record with a 3.71 earned run average. She has allowed only 41 earned runs and recorded 53 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings pitched.

She has a four-pitch repertoire — a fastball, changeup, knuckleball and dropball. She has been clocked as high as 55 mph.

Cruthers credits a great deal of her success to her travel coach, John Wojcik.

“I mix up speeds, move the ball around, try to get them to popout or groundout to my infielders,” Cruthers said. “I try to keep them on their toes.”

Swartz Creek has six league games remaining and it is entering its toughest stretch of the season.

The Dragons will host league-leading Oxford on Monday before traveling to Brandon on Thursday.

“The kids have come a long way,” Clolinger said. “I think we’re peaking and heading in the right direction. We’ve turned a few heads this year and hopefully we’re going to turn a few more before we’re done.”