H.S. Profile: Damon is perfecting her pitch
KASSON — The challenge in playing defense behind a dominating softball pitcher is that there usually is not a lot of defense to be played.
As the high school softball regular season winds down this week, Kasson-Mantorville right-fielder Abbie Overton could practically count all of her put-outs this season on the fingers of her glove.
"Well, we had two games over the weekend and I didn't have any action in those games," Overton recalled. "Last week I had one or two (plays), maybe."
Such is the life of a K-M outfielder this spring as star pitcher Maddie Damon has taken care of making most of the outs on her own.
K-M is cruising toward the section playoffs with an unbeaten record after Damon dominated the Hiawatha Valley League, with a 14-0 record, a 0.10 ERA and more than 170 strikeouts. The junior right-hander accentuated with four perfect games, a state record, including two in the last five days.
"I'm really competitive," Damon said. "My goal is to strike out every batter I face; that's what I like to do."
Last Saturday, she retired all 15 batters by strikeout in a five-inning 12-0 win over Blooming Prairie; Monday she fanned 19 of 21 straight outs in a 6-0 win at Owatonna.
You might think Damon's dominance has taken some fun out of the game for her teammates, but Overton said think again.
"It's really awesome to see Maddie succeed; it's a great thing," the senior assured. Overton made a rare putout in the sixth inning at Owatonna, racing toward the foul line for a running catch that helped preserve Damon's latest perfect game.
"Every pitch we (fielders) have to have the mindset, 'the ball is coming to me, it's coming to me,' "Overton said. "It's fun; I don't get bored."
K-M coach Jeff Fague and his assistants have been guarding against complacency for five seasons now, since Damon began pitching for the KoMets as a seventh grader. The ace has led K-M to two straight Section 1AA titles and a runner-up finish at state last June.
"All three of the coaches are always chattering to the outfielders and infielders, 'Be ready! Stay on your toes!' " Fague said.
Boilermaker in making
Damon, who has already made a verbal commitment to play college softball at Purdue University in the Big Ten, is closing in on her second straight 20-win, 200-strikeout season.
"Maddie has added pitches throughout her career and now she's refining them," Fague expained. "She's got a great curve, and she's got a dynamite rise that just jumps up and a lot of batters struggle with. She has also added a really nice changeup this year."
Damon isn't comfortable taking all the credit for her team's success, saying she gives "all glory to God." She and Fague both also give credit to junior Cori Kennedy, who has been her catcher for three seasons and now calls the pitches instead of the coach.
Damon admits she sometimes wonders if other teammates are having fun while she strikes out two or three batters each inning.
"It's in the back of my mind," she said humbly. "But I have such great teammates; they make jokes and stuff about letting them play, too. But they are always focused and ready, and they make great plays behind me."
Damon said she and the KoMets are motivated not by perfect games or strikeout tallies, but by the pursuit of a state championship. Last year K-M lost in the state final 1-0 to New Ulm.
"That's what we're striving for," she said.
Fague and Overton said success hasn't spoiled Damon, and they are happy to hitch their wagon to her strong right arm.
"I think the kids like playing behind Maddie, just because every game we feel like we have a chance to win," Fague said.
"Maddie is the same pitcher she has always been," Overton added. "She has gotten better movement on her pitches, and more confident. But she's still the same Maddie."