NORTH CANTON: If it’s there, then it’s yours.
That’s the motto of Jenna Lilley, what she whispers to herself before and during each plate appearance. If it’s there, then it’s yours; if it’s there, then it’s yours.
More often than not, when she gets the pitch she wants, she’s right. It’s hers.
The stats she’s racked up, particularly last year, back it all up. A .659 batting average, a .731 on-base percentage. Fifty-eight hits, 24 of them doubles and six more clearing the fence for home runs. All of those are Hoover single-season records, except the latter, which she shares.
She’s also on pace to become Hoover’s all-time leader in hits, home runs, doubles, batting average — pretty much every major hitting category.
That’s in addition to the two state championships she’s won with the Vikings in as many seasons and multiple scholarship offers from the premier programs in the country, with a commitment to play at Oregon. And she’s only entering her junior season.
The natural question is, “OK, what’s next?” Lilley’s answer: “To keep going.”
After a successful freshman season, Lilley started to spend time in the weight room before last season, and saw the improved end result. Now, she’s bought in, she’s changed her diet and even does P90X, a popular high-intensity program. Coach Jerry Goodpasture raves about her work ethic, and says it’s only gotten better with each year.
But what’s really next for Lilley, and Hoover, is her advanced role on the team following the graduation of catcher Erika Warren.
Lilley is a fine shortstop and still the best hitter in a talented lineup, as has been the case. But with Warren gone, the 2013 edition is unequivocally Lilley’s team.
“Erika was always our best talker, the main communicator, always the one pushing people to get good energy on the field,” Lilley said. “My whole life, I’ve always been quote-unquote Erika’s little sister. I’ve always been in the shadow of her leadership. I’ve always tried to be a leader, but Erika, you just don’t top that when you’re on the field.”
Limited by the snow, Hoover has only had two scrimmages and might not get a chance for much more. But Lilley says she’s tried hard to increase how vocal she’s been on the field in what time they’ve had.
Her goals this season are as much of being that go-to leader in the dugout as in trying to drive in more runs (she had 46 RBI last year, one shy of Warren’s record of 47).
Goodpasture knows how high the bar has been set. He says he can’t ask for much more than the same effort Lilley’s been known to put forth.
“It’s difficult to ask Jenna to carry more as far as what she can do offensively and defensively because she had such a great year last year,” he said. “If she can have the same year, we’ll be more than happy. Of course, she expects to improve and get better. Because of the time she puts in, there could still be room for improvement.”
A lot of that work has been done via the Akron Racers, one of four members of National Pro Fastpitch. Lilley has worked with Jackie Pasquerella and Taylor Schlopy in the past, and currently with infielder Brianna Hesson.
“I’m very fortunate that there are only four professional teams and I live close to one,” Lilley said. “I’ve been able to grow up around it. It’s been a lot of fun to watch, to have some of the best players in the world in your backyard. It’s been so cool to work with them.”
Hesson and Lilley often talk on the phone, she says, working on her swing or her approach. It’s all a part of the preparation that Goodpasture says is behind all the gaudy statistics.
Once softball season does get under way and Lilley steps into the batter’s box — which according to her, she feels like she owns, since after all, she’s the one with the bat — she’ll once again start to repeat her silent threat to whoever’s on the mound on that particular day.
She’s kept up her end of the bargain so far.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.