By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Sarah Beamer has grown accustomed to -- and maybe even enjoys -- the pressure that comes every time she steps into the pitching circle for Skyline's softball team, and why shouldn't she?
Beamer has been a nearly permanent fixture in the circle for the Hawks over the past three seasons, helping Skyline become Northwestern District regular season co-champions during her freshman year in 2010 and leading the Hawks to their first outright district title as a junior last season.
This year, Skyline head coach Frank Nelson will once again hand the ball to Beamer, and this time Beamer and the rest of the Hawks will be facing the pressure of defending their title as Northwestern District champions.
That's just fine with Beamer.
"I feel like we've always had a target on our back, just because we've always had a decent program here," Beamer said. "[The pressure] definitely helps, because I can't go out there and not know that there are people who depend on me. I just go out there and do my job."
Beamer has certainly done her job well during her first three seasons with the Hawks, as the senior is currently sporting a sub-1.00 earned run average for her career and has earned first-team all-district honors in each of the past three seasons.
Last year, Beamer finished the season with a 16-5 record and a 0.74 ERA while striking out 155 batters, which helped lead Skyline to district regular-season and tournament championships.
Beamer said her mindset on the rubber has evolved over the last several seasons, as she has learned to embrace the responsibility that comes with being a pitcher.
"I think when I was a freshman I didn't know what to expect," Beamer said. "As the years have progressed, I know that everybody is behind me and I know I have most of the pressure on me because it's my pitch, and if somebody hits it, it's on me. But I know that everybody here backs me up and they want to play."
Nelson has taken notice of the competitiveness that Beamer displays on the field, and the coach said that Beamer's attitude epitomizes what the Skyline softball program is about.
"I think to be a competitor you have to be the one who wants to get the ball ... and I think she's the one that wants the ball in her hand," Nelson said. "I think we have a lot of kids this year that have that same mentality. We're the district champs until somebody tells us we're not."
Beamer credits a lot of her success to her extended experience as a softball pitcher, a position she's played since she was eight or nine years old, she said.
Beamer has been able to master a handful of pitches over that span, and her arsenal now includes a fastball, changeup, curveball, screwball, drop ball and rise ball.
It also helps that Beamer is entering her fourth season as a varsity pitcher, which has enabled her to pick up on the tendencies of the hitters that she faces.
"I'm so familiar with a lot of the girls around the area, so I know what pitches they can't hit and what pitches they can," Beamer said. "It's just been the same girls for three or four years that I've played against."
Beamer has been a proven leader for Skyline for several seasons, but her leadership on and off the field will be will be critical for the Hawks this season.
Skyline lost six players from last year's team to graduation, including Northwestern District Player of the Year Sabrie Neeb, who led the area in batting average (.483), home runs (nine), RBIs (30), runs scored (28) and stolen bases (14) last season.
Nelson has to replace nearly the entire infield, with sophomore middle infielder Carrie Robinson being the only exception.
Nelson said he bumped up four players -- including three freshmen -- to varsity from last year's junior varsity team, and he expects the newcomers to make an instant impact for the Hawks this season.
Beamer and fellow seniors Emily Ritter and Allison Funk will all be looked upon to lead the Hawks as they hope to defend their district title, but, as has been the case for much of the last three seasons, it will all start with Beamer.
"I'm going to expect a lot from [Beamer] as far as her leadership, not just on the field, but off the field," Nelson said. "I think she is an example for the kids. She's a good student and I think her work ethic both on and off the field is to be commended ... you can tell just by when she comes out here that her work ethic is what you need to succeed.
"I think that's one of our saving graces, that she's back for her senior year."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org