Prep softball: East's Michelle Thomas has grown up fast on the field
East softball pitcher Michelle Thomas stands on the wet turf of the Leopards' softball field on a rainy and gloomy afternoon, clutching her glove and preparing for practice. After more than a year with the Leopards, the sophomore looks around the field and reflects.
She is home on the turf here, having reached a level of comfort and confidence that sometimes has lacked on her path to becoming one of the state's best pitchers through the early part of this season.
"At first it was kind of overwhelming," Thomas said of shouldering a heavy load for the Leopards as just a sophomore. "But then just having a couple other sophomores along my side really helps. My teammates help build me stronger. And as you get more experience, you become better."
Overcoming a challenge on the field is nothing new for Thomas. There were the nights when she was 6 and the only girl on her baseball team. She'd come home crying after games because the boys made fun of her, forcing her to switch to softball.
And there was the summer she nearly quit the sport altogether. She was 12, playing on a team of 16-year-olds. Her teammates were driving to and from practice, and she hadn't even started middle school yet. The age gap and culture difference were too much to handle.
"That was scary, playing with high schoolers," Thomas said. "I thought it was overwhelming and didn't want to do it anymore. We didn't really have much in common."
After taking a month off, Thomas decided she couldn't live without softball and found a team in her own age group. She hasn't looked back since, and after finding success last year as a freshman for the Leopards, she has taken it to another level this season.
Thomas has a 0.64 ERA with 26 strikeouts and just five walks in 33 innings on the mound, while also hitting .323 at the plate. She's fueled a hot start for the Leopards that has them 10-1 and playing like contenders in Region 6.
Leopards coach Marianne Bullis said having a team made up mostly of young players has helped Thomas take the next step in her game.
"Pretty much our whole team is made up of sophomores," Bullis said. "So she's surrounded by a bunch of kids she's been playing with for a lot of years. I think those relationships have helped strengthen her production on the field. â¦ It makes her even stronger."
That Thomas has become a key cog on a team as successful as the Leopards does not surprise Bullis, who knew early last year that Thomas was a special player, even before she started dominating on the diamond.
It was in the way Thomas carried herself, already acting like she knew she belonged on the field.
"She's really competitive, has got great heart," Bullis said. "She works for her success, so I'm not surprised by it. She's earned it. Her hard work is paying off for her, definitely."
Michelle Thomas file
Year • Sophomore
Innings pitched • 33
ERA • 0.64
Strikeouts • 26
Walks • 5