In order to truly get a feel for how special a certain player is, sometimes it’s best to ask an opposing coach of a rival team for a blunt assessment of their ability.
In the case of Seneca Valley’s Lexie Hames, Hempfield softball coach Tina Madison had this to say about the Raiders’ remarkable two-way phenom going into the first meeting between the teams on April 12.
“Lexie is a powerhouse on the mound,” Madison said. “We’re going to have to manufacture some runs against her. She’s tough. … I highly doubt I’ll let her hit. I’ve done it before.
“I’m not going to let one kid beat us offensively. But we’re going to have to put the ball in play. Lexie is dominant. She’s special.”
In the end, the Spartans became the only team to defeat Hames and Seneca Valley this season with a 3-2 win in a battle of two WPIAL Class 6A front-runners. Hames struck out 12 but walked five while allowing three runs on four hits — the only time all season she has allowed more than one run in her first 12 starts. The two powerhouses will clash again on Wednesday in a game that will go a long way toward determining the section champion, and Hames is looking forward to her shot at revenge.
“We’re hungry. We’re ready,” Hames said. “We learned so much from that game, what we need to attack as a team. … I think in the next game, we know what to do. We have a little bit more of a game plan.”
Numbers might not always tell the full story, but all it takes is one glance at the stat sheet to realize Hames is one of a kind. There are several eye-popping statistical abnormalities that jump off the page when examining the sophomore sensation’s resume, but let’s just start with the pitching. Hames has an 11-1 record with an 0.37 ERA and 0.59 WHIP, and her 172 strikeouts in only 76 innings gives her an astronomical average of 15.8 strikeouts per 7 innings.
“I know she checks where she’s at in the state,” said Raiders coach Marlesse Hames, Lexie’s mother. “She has some personal goals that sometimes she shares with me and sometimes she doesn’t. She kind of writes them down in her journal, and she’ll look at the stats. But we try not to focus on the stats, just how we can get these batters out game by game.
“I think it makes a statement, the amount of strikeouts she has created so far.”
Hames was dominant as a pitcher last year after taking over as Seneca Valley’s No. 1 starter midseason, and she posted a 14-6 record with a 1.50 ERA and 138 strikeouts as a freshman. Hames has taken her game to an entirely new level this season, though, with a chance to blow past 300 strikeouts if the Raiders can make a deep playoff run.
“My main goal last year as a freshman was just to make varsity. I think I definitely overcame that and achieved that,” Hames said. “I’m proud of how far I’ve come from last year. I’m proud of my abilities. Honestly, I’ve worked so hard my whole life to get to the point where I am, and I still have so far to go.”
Now, let’s get into the hitting. Hames exploded onto the scene last year during Seneca Valley’s memorable run to the WPIAL Class 6A championship, blasting several huge home runs on her way to tying teammate Maddie Gross for the most homers in the area with 14 apiece. Hames made such a name for herself that now, most teams simply refuse to let her hit — with one opponent even going so far as to purposely walk her with the bases loaded to bring in a run, rather than give the star slugger a chance to knock one out of the park.
Hames is still batting .368 with four home runs on the season, but that’s not what really sets her apart. Consider the fact that she’s put up those numbers with more walks than at-bats so far this season — Hames has drawn 22 walks, with many of the intentional variety, compared to only 19 at-bats in 12 games. That means she has been good for a home run every 4.75 at-bats so far this year. Her on-base percentage stands at an absurd .714, and she’s slugging an even 1.000.
With that in mind, can you blame teams for being downright terrified of throwing Hames a single strike?
“It seemed like when they did pitch to her, she hit a home run, so then they would just put her on the next couple of times. So that has been a frustrating aspect for her,” Marlesse Hames said. “I just tell her to focus on her pitching. You’re giving us baserunners, and then you’ve just got to wait for your opportunities.”
Facing Norwin on Wednesday in another monumental matchup of two Class 6A title contenders, Hames delivered maybe her finest masterpiece yet in a 1-0 Raiders win, striking out 19 while twirling a one-hit shutout against one of the area’s most potent lineups. Seneca Valley swept the season series against the Knights with a pair of shutouts, and the Raiders now control their own destiny in the race for the section title.
Of course, the section title is on their list of goals, but this team has much more to aim for. As Hames seeks to lead Seneca Valley to back-to-back WPIAL titles in her first two seasons, she still can’t shake the memories of last year’s 5-0 loss to Spring-Ford in the PIAA Class 6A championship game. And after all the valuable experience she has gained since then — including pitching in the prestigious Premier Girls Fastpitch national championship game in Huntington Beach, Calif., over the summer — there’s not much that can shake her confidence now.
“Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of playing on that big stage,” Hames said. “California, PGF nationals — that’s where all the college coaches are. It’s just so amazing to be a part of. I think being there and playing on that high stage, it gives you confidence.
“Never in my life did I think I would be where I am today, but here I am. My hard work, my determination, my perseverance — all of that contributed to where I am today.”