The Best Catcher, Period.
April 18, 2002
By David Song
BERKELEY - Even junior Courtney Scott is bewildered by her dramatic improvement at the plate.
'This year, I don't know what's going on,' said Scott, the starting catcher. 'I really don't know.'
What doesn't she know, and what is going on this year with this native of Clovis, a town near Fresno?
For starters, Scott has led the team for most of the season in batting at a .345 clip and is the team leader in RBI with 37. The casual observer might not be as appreciative of Scott's stat line, but considering her past seasons' performances at the plate, she has improved dramatically.
Scott batted .210 as a freshman, playing in all 74 games that year. In 2001, she fared a little better, batting .245 with 21 RBI. Scott claims that she is at a loss for words when it comes to the 100-point jump in her batting average, but looking deeper, the improvement isn't that inexplicable.
Perhaps her hitting improvement is linked to playing on the same summer ball team as All-Americans Jennie Finch (Arizona), Stacey Nuveman (UCLA) and Sarah Beach (Arizona State). Scott doesn't think so as she didn't bat last summer but was primarily there for her defense. Scott did eventually mention that she had extra batting practice sessions with assistant coach Kim Maher.
Whatever the scenario, Scott has been slow to credit some wondrous event or phenomena that has led to the spike in her offensive performance.
'Coming into this year, we knew we lost some big bats from the previous season,' said Scott. 'And we lost Eryn Manahan (medical redshirt second baseman, who hit .304 in 2001) this year to her back, so I talked to Kim Maher at the beginning of this season and told her I wanted to do whatever I could to make more of an impact. I didn't want to be just another bat in the lineup.'
Her improvement has been a key factor to the success of the Bears this year. Batting in the fifth spot of the lineup, just behind junior Veronica Nelson, a homerun threat that is also the NCAA's career walk leader, opposing teams have resorted to passing on her for Scott.
Scott's made those teams pay. With Scott's batting average and an ability to drive in multiple runners, it has come to the point where opponents are left to choose their poison - Nelson going yard, or Scott smashing a hard single or double into the gap for one, two or even three runs.
'It gives me confidence knowing that the team can depend on you,' said Scott. 'Especially when they walk Roni (Nelson) to get to me.'
But of course Scott isn't privy to all the hype. Sure, many athletes are known for their modesty or knowing when to say the right thing, but Scott literally is at a loss for words. When asked questions for this story, she would ask, 'so what do you want me to say when I don't even know what's going on with myself.'
Defensively, her durability behind the plate and her strong, steady arm have been a commodity that has not gone unnoticed by people familiar with collegiate softball. UCLA's Nuveman and Cal State Fullerton's Jenny Topping are the more brand name catchers, but both are known for their offense. Scott has always prided her performance on the defensive aspect of the game.
'I take it personal if I don't do well, defensively,' Scott said. 'I'd like to think that I can compete with anybody defensively.'
And that statement comes from an individual forced to talk about herself. She is only claiming what numbers have backed up all along. In 2002, she has played in all 51 games thus far. And for a player who leads the conference in chances (452), which means she has more opportunities than anyone to make mistakes, Scott astonishingly has just one error. In three years, she has made only seven errors.
In addition, base stealers need be wary. In 32 attempts, she has caught 16 runners, which is second in the Pac-10 only to Arizona's Mackenz Vandergeest. The astounding thing about that statistic is the fact that Scott doesn't even throw during the week in practices because of a chronic soreness in her shoulder. Scott saves her arm for games and even then, the pain shoots up when throwing the ball back to the pitcher or gunning down a base runner.
But don't worry, she wouldn't admit to the heroics of playing under those kinds of circumstances. Unprompted, her coaches divulged that detail.
If numbers or even coaches don't validate Scott's defensive prowess, how about the input of a four-time first team All-American, All-everything player and the star pitcher on the 1998 National Champion Fresno State Bulldogs - her own sister, Amanda Scott.
'Courtney just has this great ability to call pitches,' said the older sister, three years Courtney's senior. 'She's one of the best, if not the best catcher. She's always had the ability to swing the bat, but this year, her numbers are actually showing that.'
Courtney Scott's defensive talents have always been there since she's been playing the catcher position. It's been the development of her bat that is allowing her to rise above good players into elite status. Even still, she shuns all the credit or compliments thrown her way.
'I don't like it,' she said. 'I don't like the attention, I really don't.'
For one thing, she'll have to get used to it. Already, she has been invited to the USA Softball Selection Camp this summer for a chance to compete on the national team. If she can't handle a small interview, you wonder what'll happen if she makes it to Athens, Greece in 2004.