Stead breaking out during Falcons’ historic season

Central first baseman Kristina Stead beats Page County's Kate Gordon  to the bag during last Friday's game in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central first baseman Kristina Stead beats Page County's Kate Gordon to the bag during last Friday's game in Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – It was early in the high school softball season – seven games in, to be exact – and Central sophomore Kristina Stead was scuffling a bit at the plate.

Prior to an at-bat against visiting Clarke County on April 8, Falcons head coach Lisa Rhodes pulled Stead aside and told the sophomore not to over-think things at the plate. Focusing on the intricacies of an at-bat is an action reserved for the batting cage, Rhodes told Stead, but during the game it’s all about reacting, finding a pitch and driving it.

That game, Stead hit her first varsity home run.

“That’s how I’ve been ever since I hit that ball,” Stead said after practice Wednesday evening as Central prepares for its first state tournament appearance, a 1 p.m. Group 2A semifinal game against Glenvar on Friday afternoon at the Moyer Complex in Salem. “I just get in there and just tell myself don’t think about it, just hit the ball.”

It’s a change that has been quite fruitful for Stead – one that she credited for her RBI single that plated the game’s only run in the Conference 35 championship against Madison County back on May 26.

Through last Friday’s Region 2A East championship loss to Page County, Stead is batting .351 with a home run, five RBIs and 18 runs scored while playing in all 25 games for the Falcons (21-4). She leads the team in hits (26) and is tied for the team lead with seven doubles, and is second in batting average, runs, on-base percentage (.400), slugging percentage (.486) and total bases (36).

Stead hit in the bottom half of the batting order as a freshman last spring. This season she’s remained firmly entrenched as the Falcons’ No. 3 hitter, a role Stead said wasn’t expected, but a role she’s certainly enjoyed while making critical contributions to Central’s most successful season in the program’s history.

And it’s a role that Falcons senior pitcher Bekah Ansbro said has come as Stead’s confidence has grown.

“Her first year … she would not talk to anyone,” Ansbro said. “She was just so quiet and reserved. Toward the end of the season there she kind of started coming out of her shell, and she definitely broke out this season and we all love her.

“I think her really coming out and just having a good time has helped her relax a little bit more. And you can see that in her stats.”

Stead still sometimes resembles the girl who, as the only freshman on the team, got “picked on” for being so quiet last season, she said with a laugh. She still goes through bouts of shyness around her teammates but now she drops reminders to be herself and watch what her older teammates are doing on and off the diamond.

Stead is studying to be a leader in order to pick up the slack once the Falcons lose Ansbro – a four-year varsity starter and George Mason University commit – to graduation at season’s end.

“Since Bekah’s leaving this year someone has to take her spot,” said Stead, a first baseman who also has a 3-0 record with a 0.58 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10.1 innings of limited pitching action this spring. “She’s really good at picking up the team. Like when we get in our little circle there she always picks us up and tells us what we need to do, and I feel like I could do that next year.”

Ansbro said Stead is already a leader for the Falcons on the field, and Rhodes said the sophomore has shown to possess the right ingredients for becoming a positive role model for her current and future teammates.

“She’s the kind of kid that as she progresses through her career, I see her being a strong, silent example for the girls that she leads,” Rhodes said.

Stead has already set that example this season through her willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the team, Rhodes said. At one point earlier this season, the head coach recalled asking Stead – who had already played right field, pitcher and first base, her primary position – if she would be OK with making another defensive switch due to a certain set of circumstances. Stead replied, “Just put me where the team needs me.”

“That’s something that I really respected in her and really valued is that I knew that she was gonna be OK with wherever she needed to be,” Rhodes said, “and that she was gonna contribute to the team as best she could wherever I put her, wherever the team needed her.”

Where the Falcons need Stead on Friday is in the heart of Central’s batting order, where she will try to rebound from a hitless outing in last Friday’s shutout loss to Page County in order to help lead her team to its first-ever state championship game appearance.

“I know last game my approach in the box wasn’t too good,” Stead said, “but I’m definitely ready to get in there and hit the ball.”

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

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