McLachlan to play even bigger role for Wildcats

Warren County's Paige McLachlan will fill an even more important role for the Wildcats' softball team this season after going 10-10 with a 2.39 ERA and 129 strikeouts on the mound while leading the team in batting in 2014. Photo courtesy of Troy King

FRONT ROYAL – Believe or not, Paige McLachlan had to be convinced to try out for Warren County’s varsity softball team four years ago.

An avid softball player who dedicated 10 months out of the year to the sport, McLachlan was enticed by the thought of branching out and trying new things when it came time to participate in high school sports. It was for that reason she opted to compete for Warren County’s junior varsity track and field team in the shot put instead of playing softball during her eighth-grade year, and McLachlan considered taking that same path her freshman year at Warren County High School during the 2012 spring season.

“I’ve played travel ball since I was 10, so I play softball pretty much all year round but two months out of the year. I wanted to get to do other things, I guess,” McLachlan said last Wednesday afternoon.

“My freshman year I was debating whether or not to do track or play softball, but I couldn’t do three months without playing softball so that was a big factor in why I played.”

Wildcats softball coach Justin Stock had no clear understanding of McLachlan’s intentions in 2012 until she showed up for the first day of softball tryouts. McLachlan admits now that choosing to play softball in high school was the right choice. Stock is pretty happy with her decision as well.

As a sophomore, McLachlan excelled in the pitching circle after filling the void left by the graduation of former Wildcats standout Nicole King. In 2012, McLachlan went 13-9 with a 0.95 ERA and 137 strikeouts in 162 innings pitched.

Last season as a junior, she pitched to a 10-10 record, a 2.39 ERA and struck out 129 batters in 131.2 innings en route to first team all-Bull Run District and all-Conference 28 honors.

Now McLachlan is entering her senior season and figures to play a more important role with Warren County than ever before.

McLachlan’s status as Warren County’s primary pitcher had long cemented her in a leadership role that often comes naturally with the position, but her three years of varsity playing experience have placed her in the realm of an even larger mentoring role.

That type of leadership responsibility somewhat conflicts with McLachlan’s quiet demeanor, but Stock said he made sure the senior was aware of the kind of role the Wildcats need of her this season as soon as the Wildcats opened spring practice.

“The first day of practice we went to break down and everybody just kind of looked at her and I don’t think she was quite expecting that,” Stock said. “You’ve got to realize during the games they’re looking at you because you’ve got the ball every pitch, but now they’re starting to look to you as you are the team leader. Last year, even not being a senior, she was kind of that team leader without really being the vocal leader.”

McLachlan let her performance in the circle do most of the talking during her first two seasons as Warren County’s primary pitcher, as she used a five-pitch combination of fastballs, changeups, screwballs and curveballs – her go-to pitch – and the occasional rise ball to stymie opposing batters. Stock said she also showed resiliency and maintained a strong sense of composure no matter the situation during games, even though McLachlan admits she still gets butterflies before each and every game.

McLachlan said maintaining that calm demeanor on the pitching rubber is a trait she picked up while serving as King’s understudy during her freshman season.

“She always seemed really calm and collected,” McLachlan said of King, “which I know can be really important when you’re pitching because you never want to let the other team, or really anybody else, know what you’re feeling if you’re frustrated or anything like that. … I’d say probably just the overall presence that she had on the mound was definitely something that I took away from her.”

McLachlan’s contributions for the Wildcats go well beyond her exploits in the circle, however.

Last season McLachlan emerged as one of Warren County’s most prolific hitters, as she batted .421 with three home runs, 28 RBIs, 18 runs scored and an area-best 14 doubles while continuing a hot streak at the plate that Stock said began during the final few weeks of McLachlan’s sophomore season.

“Last year I think we moved off the plate a little bit, were able to get her hands through,” Stock said. “She kind of carried the team offensively. We actually had a pretty good year offensively but she was definitely the table setter. Her driving [in] runs with people on base was very, very good.”

Stock added that McLachlan has a chance to break the school’s career RBI record this season, as she’s 26 shy of the 77-RBI mark set by Sheryl Green before her graduation in 1983. McLachlan said maintaining that status as Warren County’s primary run producer is a focus for her this season.

“Especially with my size and the way I’m built, I’m generally looked at, I guess, as a power hitter, so it’s definitely something I would have to fulfill to make sure I’m helping my team out as much as possible,” McLachlan said.

Stock said the goal this season is to give McLachlan “85 to 90 percent” of the pitching workload while also getting her some work at first base to prepare her for next spring, when she plans to play college softball for Division III Mary Washington. McLachlan said she will attend Mary Washington on a partial academic scholarship.

Wherever her production is coming from, McLachlan’s performance will be critical for a Warren County squad coming off a 12-10 season that will feature plenty of fresh faces in addition to a group of returning starters led by senior third baseman Autumn Troxell, junior catcher Emma Wright and sophomore infielder Arianna Smoot.

“I believe we’ll be more on the winning side than losing,” Stock said, “it’s just some of those variables, the little things are going to determine between 10 and 11 wins and 15, 16 wins.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com