PORTSMOUTH — She’s just a freshman, but you’d never know that by simply watching Preslee Lutz take foot in the pitcher’s circle.
Clay’s next pitching phenom has shared the spotlight with fellow pitcher Hannah Oliver this spring and she’s quickly made her name known by doing so.
Pitching at the junior high level and the high school varsity level in back-to-back seasons is no easy task. The speed of the game, the ability to get batters out, controlling the game, etc., are all more difficult to do … especially if you’ve never pitched at the varsity level before.
On the surface, Lutz has made that transition look effortless. But what people don’t see is the work she’s put in to get to where she is.
“I knew, at the high school level, I was going to have to work really hard to keep improving and to help my team,” Lutz said. “I’ve had to push myself in practice and listen to the coaches’ instructions to help prepare for this season and to get better. I know there’s always room to get better and I intend to keep practicing hard and keep pushing myself to be the best player and teammate I can be.”
It’s one thing to go from eighth grade pitcher to varsity starter, but it’s whole new task to fit in instantly with a group of veterans who have nailed down the process of winning games.
But Lutz says Clay’s veterans welcomed her with open arms.
“Coming into the year I was nervous to play with the upperclassmen, but they made me feel like part of the Panther family,” Lutz said. “They helped me understand the high school aspect of softball better and have helped me stay more positive with myself in every game we play. This season has been great and I wouldn’t trade this team for anything. We play as a team and have fun doing it.”
Lutz, who owns an 11-1 record in the circle, has shared the limelight all season. But she’s never been better than she was on April 22 in a 2-1 win over Notre Dame. In a must-win spot, Lutz fired seven innings, allowed just five hits and struck out seven en route to ending the Titans’ perfect season.
The win also propelled Clay into a two-way tie at the top of the SOC I standings.
“Notre Dame was a really big game for all of us. There was a lot going on throughout the game. It was nerve-racking and intense because it was such a big game for us,” Lutz said. “I had a lot of emotions during the game because I knew I had to throw strikes and let our defense back me up. At the end of the game, we were all so happy and excited that we won.”
Moments like that are why Lutz fell in love with softball in the first place.
“I started playing softball in first grade and I’ve been playing ever since,” Lutz said. “Coach Gearheart has been coaching me and helping me become a better player since the first time I picked up a softball. I’ve loved this game from the beginning and it’s always been my favorite sport. I love everything about softball but especially pitching and all the memories I’ve made.”
And there’s certainly more memories to come.
Clay has earned a one-seed in the Division IV Southeast District tournament draw. The Panthers will await the winner of Paint Valley and New Boston, which they’ll play in a Division IV sectional final.
According to Lutz, that’s just the first step on the way to Akron.
“Looking towards the tournament, I feel our team can accomplish a lot and go really far,” she said. “Our goal is to win a state championship and I feel like we can make it if we keep everything up with our defense, pitching, and hitting. We have a good team and this is our year to accomplish a lot.”
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