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Emphasis on strength training has Central’s Mantz hitting with plenty of pop

Central's Alex Mantz swings at a pitch against Clarke County in Berryville on May 11. Rich Cooley/Daily

WOODSTOCK – Alex Mantz has taken great strides at the plate for Central’s softball team this spring, and the leap she’s taken is the product of something more than just the effort she puts in every day between the lines of the diamond.

Mantz, the Falcons’ junior catcher and a three-year varsity starter, has upgraded the frequency with which she works out and lifts weights. Her 2018 campaign has been a season-long showcase of the value of dedication to strength training.

“It’s easy to tell when you get on a softball field who lifts and who doesn’t,” Central first-year head coach Scott Mongold said Thursday. “There is a sound that is produced when that ball goes by your ear that tells you who’s lifting weights and who’s not. You can’t hide it.”

Mongold has heard that sound buzzing on balls off of Mantz’s bat quite often during practice over the last few months, and Central’s opponents likely have been hearing it regularly during games.

Heading into today’s regular-season finale at Strasburg, Mantz has been one of the top offensive producers among the six public high schools in the Northern Virginia Daily’s coverage area. She’s batting .517 (30-for-58) with four home runs, 12 doubles, three triples, 27 RBIs and 22 runs scored, ranking at or near the top of the area leaderboard in each category.

Coach Scott Mongol, right, speaks with Alex Mantz before she steps into the batter's box against Clarke County on May 11. Rich Cooley/Daily

While Mantz is physically stronger than she’d been in each of her two previous seasons at Central – she combined for two home runs during the 2016 and 2017 high school seasons, and said it “shocked” her when she began hitting for power last travel season – but she’s also riding the confidence from what she said was a very successful season with the Loudoun Storm travel team.

With the Storm, Mantz said she underwent some changes to her swing mechanics with coach Rob Cole, who “basically fixed a bunch of things and it all kind of flowed together.”

“During my travel ball season I finished with a .500 batting average and that was kind of like a motivation coming into school ball, to try to work to get better for when travel ball comes back in,” Mantz said. “And there’s a little more competition with travel ball, so I kind of had a feeling this season was gonna go good, especially with our new coach (Mongold). He’s got a lot of new batting drills and stuff that we’ve been working on, so that also helped.”

Despite the leaps Mantz’s numbers have taken this season, Mongold said the junior – who has managed to thrive in the box even though she drops her hands during her swing – has yet to reach her full potential as a power threat in the heart of Central’s lineup and pointed to Wednesday’s game against George Mason as proof that there is still work to be done.

Mantz launched her fourth home run of the season in the first inning to set the tone for what would turn into an 11-0 Central win, but Mongold said the junior also was too aggressive during an at-bat with the bases loaded in the fourth inning, swung at a pitch out of the strike zone and grounded out to second base.

Alex Mantz walks back to home plate after having a discussion with pitcher Kristina Stead during a recent game. Rich Cooley/Daily

“The power thing, it’s fun to watch and to be honest with you it hasn’t really materialized yet,” Mongold said. “I mean we were sitting here the other night throwing front toss on the field and she hit 14 to 17 balls over the fence. It’s coming. You can see it coming.”

Mantz also has made progress in the field, where she’s Central’s starting catcher after making a full switch to that position last year.

As a freshman in 2016 – the year the Falcons reached the VHSL Group 2A state title game and fell to Lebanon, 2-1, in 16 innings – Mantz played third base, second base, outfield and a couple of games at catcher. This year, she’s calling pitches for teammates Kristina Stead and Alicia Ball behind the plate after Mongold granted her the freedom to do so.

“It makes me feel like I’m trusted to take control of the game,” said Mantz, who is admittedly a quiet person and said she’s had to adjust to taking control when the Falcons are in the field. “It makes me feel like the girls can trust what I’m saying where the ball goes in certain situations.”

Central, which dropped into third place in the Bull Run District with Friday’s loss to Clarke County, enters its season finale against Strasburg 12-7 overall and 5-4 in district play.

The Bull Run District tournament begins Monday, and Mantz said the Falcons need to sharpen up the “little things” on the field to make a strong postseason run. She added that the stronger the team’s chemistry, the more everything “clicks” for Central, and she called this year’s squad one of the closest teams she’s played for in her high school career.

“If we stay together, I think we can make it as far as we did my freshman year, just because everybody’s got the talent that we need,” Mantz said. “Everybody’s got a key to the wins.”