Speak Softly, and Carry a Big Bat
By Lindsay Gaesser, SDA Media Relations
Arizona State University third baseman Haley Steele has plenty to brag about. From her two-run homer in the seventh inning against Kentucky to send the Sun Devils to the Women’s College World Series last season to her grand slam and team-best six RBIs in the Kajikawa Classic this season, Steele has become a force to be reckoned with.
Last year, Steele earned National Fastpitch Coaches Association and Pac-12 Conference honors, finishing her sophomore season with 61 hits, 43 runs, 12 homers, 47 RBIs, and a team-best 14 doubles. She is on pace to surpass those numbers this season. After 32 games, she has a slugging percentage of .573, is hitting .365, and has 30 RBIs. Despite these numbers and accolades, Steele is not one to brag about anything.
“My performance does play into a lot of our success, but it’s not just mine; it’s everyone’s,” said Steele. “I don’t mind not getting much media attention really. As long as our team is succeeding, it doesn’t bother me.
I actually brag about my teammates more than I’ll talk about myself,” she added with a bashful grin. “Softball is a team effort and it’s a team sport. I just consider myself background music.”
But with Steele’s lofty goals for the season, her sights set on Oklahoma, and peak performances in high-pressure situations, this background music is only going to get louder.
It’s all about progression…
Steele came to ASU as an ESPN Rise First-Team All-State selection from Poway High School in Poway, Calif. She led the Titans to a CIF championship game in 2011 while batting .487 with 35 RBIs and 36 runs scored. The heavy hitter was the 2011 CIF San Diego Section Softball Player of the Year and the MVP of the Palomar League.
Once at ASU however, Steele was just another fish in a big pond, and it took some time to make the adjustment.
“I chose ASU because it had a very successful softball program and I fell in love with the school the second I set foot on campus,” said Steele. “But of course, all students go through the high school-to-college transition. My biggest on field adjustment I had to make was playing in front of a crowd that large. But once routine set in and I started getting the hang of the education behind softball, things started to click.”
Despite struggling in preseason, Steele made 58 starts at third base in her collegiate debut, finishing the season with 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, and a slug percentage of .556.
“I had a progression throughout my freshman year, but my preseason is what held me back,” Steele added. “That explains my .284 batting average—I was a newbie. As I saw it though, my progression throughout the season just meant that I was going to peak at the right time.”
And peak she did. Steele hit .355 in the postseason, which was second on the club, with a team-best 11 hits, three homers, and eight RBIs. She was also named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. Not bad for a self-described newbie.
Steele carried that momentum into her sophomore season. Hitting .330 in 62 games, she was just shy of cracking the Top 20 in single-season marks in hits, homers, and RBIs. Steele posted numbers that earned her NFCA All-Region First Team and Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention. And once again, she delivered a solid postseason performance.
“I got more comfortable and I was getting into the zone,” Steele said of her sophomore season. “I always tend to peak at the right moment. So when the competition gets tough, so do I.”
In the postseason, Steele tallied two hits in the Tempe Regional, went 3-for-4 with four RBIs against Kentucky in the Super Regional, homered against Texas in the WCWS, and was intentionally walked by Michigan in a WCWS elimination game. So although the media may not have been tuned in to this background music, ASU’s opponents most certainly were.
“I just love being in those high-pressure situations—tie ball game, bottom of the seventh,” Steele said of her performance in the postseason. “I thrive on those nail-biting situations because they give me the opportunity to prove to myself that all of my training has paid off and that I can come through for my team.”
Putting it all together…
With the 2014 season underway, Steele has already made an impact on the team. In a three-game stretch against Tennessee State, UC Riverside, and Oklahoma, Steele homered in each, including a grand slam against UC Riverside. Her 30 RBIs this season are first on the club, and she is tied for third in runs scored (21) with teammate Elizabeth Caporuscio.
Despite a hot start to the season, Steele remains humble and grounded.
“I should be hitting better throughout the whole season, so I’m kind of meshing everything together this year,” said Steele. “That’s what I’m going to try to focus on.
I like to believe I found my groove,” Steele added about her hot streak. “But softball is a sport of failure. And like Coach Nicholson says, ‘We are trying to be perfect in an imperfect sport.’ So maintaining mental consistency is vital, as well as relying on all my preparation.”
Though Steele is not one to brag about her performance, her stats are doing the talking for her. This season Steele has posted stats that have her climbing the ranks in the ASU career record book. At the end of her sophomore season, she ranked 15th in homers (25) and 21st in RBIs (90). Just 32 games into her junior season, Steele has broken into the Top 20 on the all-time RBI list—she currently sits at 14th with 120 RBIs—is now 12th in home runs (30), and has moved from 18th to 12th in doubles (30).
At the pace Steele is going this season, it appears her goals are within reach.
“I am going to try for All-American this year,” said Steele. “I know it’s not like you can just turn that on or off, but that’s one of my goals. I also just want to play for the team. I’m looking to hit more line drives and play my game on defense—fewer errors, especially mental errors.”
In addition to personal goals, Steele has set the bar equally high for the team this season.
“It comes in a series,” said Steele of team goals. “You want to win all your preseason and regular season games. Then you want to win the Pac-12. Then you want to host Regionals and Super Regionals. Then eventually you want to win in Oklahoma. Those are pretty much our set goals.”
With a 27-5 record, ASU currently sits at eighth in the USA Softball/ESPN.com Poll and at 11th in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll. If the Sun Devils maintain their momentum throughout the season, the road to Oklahoma is looking to be paved with maroon and gold.
And where does Haley Steele factor in to all of this? Softball fans across the nation better buckle up, because Steele is about to crank it up to 11.