At 40 feet apart, a very close relationship is being built.
Laina Suesue is a constant stream of chatter while squatting behind home plate. She throws the ball and a comment back to Lique Lokeni in the circle. Suesue coaches Lokeni on each pitch, framing the plate with her left-handed mitt and telling her where she wants the ball.
“You’re fine, just spin it and toss it,” Suesue encourages Lokeni. “Atta girl. That’s one of the best. Just bring it down.”
Lokeni and Suesue, a pair of freshmen, are teaming up to dominate batters in Region 6. The Leopards entered the week 10-1, and East coach Marianne Bullis credits her battery for setting the tone for the season.
“It’s been quite a phenomenal season,” Bullis said. “We’re 4-0 in region. That’s the best this team has ever played. It seems each year we keep getting better and better.”
Lokeni and Suesue find a quiet patch of dirt 25 minutes before each practice and game to warm up Lokeni’s arm. Suesue takes her pitcher through her five pitches — fastball, changeup, drop, curve and rise. She is patient with every offering Lokeni delivers, making sure they are in sync before taking the field.
“It takes a lot of practice to build the trust we need on the field,” Lokeni said. “I know she has my back, and I trust her to help me. That’s what makes her the best catcher.”
Suesue explained that East started the season by trying to build a solid team focused on fundamentals and trusting everybody to do her job.
“We need to stay positive through everything,” Suesue said. “We’re starting to understand our weaknesses and working to improve on them. The more we gel, the better we’ll play.”
Lokeni’s delivery is pure frenetic motion. She is deceptive in both the speed and movement of her pitch, slapping her glove against her thigh as she hurls the ball from her hip. She averages five strikeouts per game but does it in a style that Bullis hopes other players mimic.
“She is very respectful and very proud to be a part of East High,” Bullis said. “Lique is always doing the right things.”
Suesue makes her presence felt at the plate as well. The only natural left-handed hitter on the team is averaging better than .600 with a home run and four triples entering the week.
“Laina is a force at the plate,” Bullis said. “She is proving to be a hard hitter — a very solid player.”
The chatter from the East dugout is constant during games, but Lokeni is focused on one voice while she is in the circle. She listens and watches Suesue to make the right call and tries to deliver the right pitch. Call, pitch, return is the steady routine that is building a trusting relationship that should pay dividends for the Leopards over the next three-plus years.
“She keeps me grounded and knows how to keep me calm out there,” Lokeni said. “I am excited to play with her now and looking forward to when we’re seniors. Nobody will stop us then.”
Leopards on the rise
Laina Suesue and Lique Lokeni both are freshman starters on the East varsity softball team.
East is 10-1 entering the week with its only loss coming to South Summit in the seventh inning.
Lokeni, who can throw five pitches, has been tossing to Suesue for three years.