Chuck Landon: MU catcher has been on a wild ride
What a ride.
Just one short year ago, Katalin Lucas was finishing up her senior year of high school right about now in Agua Dulce, Calif., and preparing for graduation exercises from Village Christian High School.
Now, fast forward 12 months.
The still 18-year-old has played a remarkable role in the unprecedented success of Marshall's softball team, stepping into the crucial position of starting catcher.
In fact, when Marshall takes on the 12th-seeded University of Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. Friday during the NCAA Regional in Lexington, Ky., Lucas will be making her 51st start of the season.
Again, what a ride.
Just look at what has happened to this teenager in one year.
Lucas became a key component in Marshall's 35-20 record, batting .211 with seven doubles, two home runs and 18 RBIs. More important, she has been a rock behind the plate. Lucas has 292 putouts and 52 assists, while committing only six errors. Opponents haven't tried to run on her, stealing only 42 bases in 58 attempts compared to Marshall's totals of 126 steals in 159 tries.
She got two hits in the Herd's 3-1 win over Houston in the Conference USA Tournament championship game.
Lucas was a part of Marshall's first C-USA championship team in eight years.
She will play in Marshall's first NCAA Regional appearance in school history on Friday.
Lucas served as the battery mate to arguably the hardest-throwing, most charismatic pitcher in all of collegiate softball in Andi Williamson.
Could any collegiate athlete have a more successful, whirlwind of a true freshman season than Lucas?
Why, that last event by itself -- being Williamson's backstop -- would make most freshmen catcher's mask spin.
"Catching Andi is totally different than any of the other pitchers I've ever caught," said the 5-foot-2 Lucas, who bats and throws right-handed. "You can just see the determination in her face and the way she pitches. She throws every pitch with everything that she has."
Then, there is Williamson's remarkable velocity.
"Speed is good, but it's not just her speed," said Lucas. "She can throw it really fast to a batter, but it's about movement really. And she has both. She can put spin on the ball and move the ball. And she has good speed where she can get it past the batters and make them swing.
"And, then, her off-speed pitches are even better. It throws them all off with that changeup. They're not going to be able to sit back and hit it."
And don't forget Williamson's control and mental approach.
"She has a lot of control over each pitch," said Lucas. "She is really good with placing the ball wherever it is called. And she knows the batters. She knows what they've done each time in their previous at-bat."
Despite all that, it still was quite an adjustment for Lucas to make the jump from high school catcher/pitcher/third baseman to dealing with being Williamson's everyday catcher.
"It took me a while, yeah," she said. "With how fast she does throw. ... there are some that get me. Her rise ball? With how much velocity she has on that? It's hard to catch. It's hard to catch up to it because I never know how much it's going to rise.
"It has been an adjustment. But I love it. I like being here."
It has been the ride of her young life.
Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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