EVANSVILLE -- On a scorching hot summer day, Hannah Long stepped into the cage to work on her batting at the Joe Lis Baseball School in Evansville.
After the last of about 40 pitches -- all of which solid contact was made -- Long took a brief break to collect the balls she had just assaulted and loaded up the machine once more.
Becky Lis, who was in the building supervising, was helping Long and noticed the dial on the machine was cranked up to 73 miles per hour.
The machine was supposed to have been set at 66 mph.
"Oops," Long said.
The added seven miles per hour did not phase the Gibson Southern player.
Neither did opposing teams this past spring, as Long locked down the 2019 Daily Clarion Softball Player of the Year award with sparkling defense and superb hitting at the plate.
The sophomore finished second on the team with a .408 batting average and was the team leader in hits with 40. She also knocked in 20 runs, led the team with 37 runs scored and was successful on 15 of 16 stolen base attempts. She also smacked three home runs, including a lead-off blast in the regional championship game.
But what gave Long an edge over not only her counterparts but also teammates was her ability to be a difference maker with both her bat and glove. She anchored the Lady Titans defense by finishing the season with just two errors on 101 total chances -- a sparkling .980 fielding percentage.
"I feel like my fielding is better than my hitting," Long said of her defense.
In the biggest game of the season, Long made arguably the biggest play of the game.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead over Castle -- the defending Class 4A sectional champions -- Long fielded a ball up the middle as she was fully stretched out for a force out. The play came late in the game with a runner at first and helped keep the high-powered Knights offense off the scoreboard.
The Lady Titans would hang on for a 1-0 win and two nights later captured the 4A sectional championship with another 1-0 win over Evansville Reitz.
Long scored the only run of the game with exceptional baserunning including a steal of third which resulted in the game-winning run.
With all of the highlight-reel worthy plays Long made on the field this season, it almost did not happen.
During a practice in the fall for her travel team -- the Indiana Dream -- Long suffered a dislocated elbow.
The way the injury occurred is another example of how Long plays the game -- full speed.
"I crashed into the fence with my arm extended as I was taking flyballs in the outfield," she explained. "I wasn't really scared (of the injury) as much as I was disappointed in knowing I wouldn't be able to be out there with my team for the next eight or nine weeks."
But Long turned the injury into a positive.
"Thank goodness it was my left elbow (non throwing)," she stated. "But I basically had to rebuild everything with hitting and throwing. But I think it helped me get into a better mental shape. Just the whole process made me a better overall player."
The injury did not cause Long to miss any action this spring for the Titans.
"I think I missed a couple open gyms because of it, but I still attended so I would know what was going on," she explained.
With Long in the starting
see players/page b8
lineup for the second straight season, the Lady Titans won sectional and regional titles for the third time in the last four seasons. They also won 26 of 28 games this spring.
Last season as a freshman, Long admitted she felt a little nervous being a starter for such a strong program.
Those nerves were gone this season.
"I definitely felt a lot less pressure this year," she said. "I had to prove myself last year being a freshman, so this year I felt like I could go out there a lot more relaxed and have fun playing the game I love.
"I knew we were going to have a good team again this year so I worked even harder to be better than I was last year."
According to Long, a big part of the Titans' success this past spring was due to the team being a close-knit group.
"By the end of the season we were all just so close," she explained. "We all just cheer for each other and it fueled us all to just keep playing and see how far it would take us."
The Titans also had four seniors in the lineup who played a vital part of the success of the program. Long mentioned she did not want to let them down.
"We wanted to go out there and win not only for each other but also for all the seniors," the sophomore said. "Having them on the team just made the season so much fun and it was easy to go out there and play for them."
Long started playing softball when she was seven and developed a love for the game from her family.
"I grew up watching my cousin, Haley Chambers play," Long recalled. "She ended up being a Division-I player (pitcher at Southern Illinois-Edwardsville) and my mom also played so I decided I wanted to try it out and I have loved it ever since."
With two more seasons in a Titans uniform, Long is well on her way to follow in her cousins footsteps.
2019 Season Stats/Highlights
-- .408 Batting Average
-- .980 Fielding Percentage
-- 40 Hits
-- 37 Runs scored
-- Winning run in sectional championship
-- First Team All-Pocket Athletic Conference
Getting to Know Hannah Long
iPhone or Andriod: iPhone
Clothing brand? Nike and Under Armour
What's in the bag? Two pair of batting gloves cause one pair smell really bad, helmet, glove, ball to keep in my glove and my facemask
Brand of glove? Wilson
Brand of bat? Demarini
Type of music before a game? Just whatever is playing, doesn't matter much
Favorite social media app? Instagram
Funniest teammate? Olivia Stunkel because she is just so happy-go-lucky and just goes with the flow
Favorite road trip moment? Coming back from Terre Haute cause we played well and we all were just laughing having a good time and made a lot of funny videos
Favorite place to eat after a game? Chick-fil-A
Any superstitions? Always wear my Play For Kate bracelet on my left wrist in memory of Kate Bruggenschmidt (killed in ATV accident)
Favorite ice-cream flavor? Plain chocolate
Favorite topping? Maraschino cherries
Toughest pitcher faced? Well I practice against Lyndsi (Adamson) so I would have to say her.
Favorite player to watch? Katie Reed (University of Kentucky shortstop)
Favorite college team? Western Kentucky University
Favorite moment in high school softball? Beating Castle because they are the team we really wanted to beat.
Favorite team to play against? Castle because I know a lot of the girls
If not softball, what? Maybe swimming, I always loved to swim.
Favorite vacation spot? Yosemite Park for hiking
Game winning hit or game-saving defensive play? Game-saving play on defense. I love playing defense.
Family: David (father), Kathie (mother) and Sydney (sister)