HHS' Prough handling the pressure
By KLINT SPILLER
It wasn't supposed to be like this.
Hays High School freshman Madison Prough expected to play junior varsity and possibly contend for the No. 2 varsity pitching spot, taking limited innings behind standout sophomore Hannah Hearld. After all, Prough was entering just her first season of high school softball. She never had experienced softball on this level, and it was customary for freshmen to get their feet wet first.
So when she heard the news that Hearld, one of the team's best players, was out for the year with an ACL tear from basketball season, all of a sudden, the weight of the team was thrown upon her inexperienced shoulders.
"It was a little scary at first, but after a while, I got used to it and was excited to play," Prough said. "But yeah, I was a little nervous at first."
Prough has shouldered much of the burden for Hays High (10-6) inside the circle.
Prough (6-4) has appeared in all but two games and thrown 64.2 innings. Classmate Jenna Luebbers (4-2) has filled the No. 2 spot, pitching 37 innings in eight games.
Both have shown their inexperience. Prough, who has pitched since she was 9 years old, has posted a 4.33 earned-run average for seven innings and allowed 86 hits, while Luebbers has a 4.35 ERA.
It's definitely been a shock to the system for the team after last year's pitchers averaged a 1.59 ERA, but Prough at least has provided a consistent presence on the mound.
Unlike Hearld, who put torque on her pitches, Prough doesn't possess a litany of pitches. She throws fastballs for strikes and makes balls playable for her defense.
"Madison is more consistent," said junior catcher Haley Wells. "She pitches to exact spots."
Hays High coach Abby Maska said she was proud of the way her freshmen ace has handled the pressure.
"She's done such a great job," Maska said. "Sometimes, we wonder if she really realizes how big of a role she's playing."
Wells said it was impressive how few nerves Prough shows while she pitches.
"She doesn't like warming up much, because she feels like she is always ready," Wells said.
Naturally, Prough has had her bad days, especially considering she's a freshman pitching against powerhouse teams like Great Bend, but she doesn't let it get to her.
"I just keep telling myself the game isn't over yet," Prough said. "A lot of things could still happen. I know I have the 'D' to back me up, so I keep telling myself I can do it."
Prough has done her job this season. She has kept Hays High in ball games.
Until Great Bend swept the Indians on Saturday, Hays High had won nine of 10 games after a 1-3 start.
"She does everything we ask," Maska said. "She doesn't give up too many big hits. ... She keeps the ball playable for our defense. For a freshman, she's come a long way from the first game out to now."
Prough said she has faith in her teammates to help her out.
Offensively, her teammates have been there for her, hitting .399, and the defense has played well at times. However, Hays High's defense has averaged three errors a game, partly due to more balls hit to the field.
Prough said the greatest challenge going from middle school summer softball to varsity in high school wasn't the jump in competition. It was the change in mound distance.
She pitches about three feet farther back in high school than she did in the summer.
"I had to really get used to that and pushing myself harder to throw as fast as some of the pitchers," she said.
Prough said her team has been supportive despite the growing pains.
"The seniors really did their job of picking up all the freshmen on the team," she said. "They've all been very supportive of us."