HHS pitcher, catcher share chemistry
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Hannah Hearld throws the ball. Haley Wells catches it.
As simple as it sounds, there is a more complex relationship at work. Hearld, the junior ace pitcher for the Hays High School softball team, and Wells, the squad’s four-year starter at catcher, have a chemistry even hydrogen and oxygen would envy.
“They know what makes each other tick. You will see both of them kind of helping each other through tough innings, whether it’s a passed ball for Haley or a walk for Hannah,” Indian softball coach Abby Maska said.
“Sometimes they don’t need to say anything to each other. It can just be a look and they will be on the same page. … You really got to trust your catcher back there and Hannah obviously has a lot of confidence in Haley and that just allows Hannah to relax and let the ball fly.”
The girls have been playing pitch and catch since elementary school. Despite being a year apart, they were good friends from a young age. And when Hearld needed someone to catch for her, Wells was the first to step up to the plate.
“We’ve been playing together since I was a fourth grader and she was a fifth grader, so we have some chemistry behind us,” Hearld said. “We are just so comfortable with each other and I think that has helped us out a lot.”
This bond, which helped guide the Indians to a 4-0 start this season, has grown exponentially over the last year. Both were tested a season ago when Hearld, just weeks before the start of softball, tore her anterior cruciate ligament and was forced to miss her entire sophomore season.
While Hearld battled through a challenging rehabilitation process, Wells was asked to carry on without her friend and pitcher on the field with her. The Indians, who went 20-3 with Hearld as a freshman, finished 12-9 last season without her and missed the state tournament for the first time in two years.
With Hearld back and healthy this season, everything is starting to feel right again for Wells in her final run with the Indians.
“It’s nice to have her back my senior year, especially to be leaving the field with the girl that I grew up playing softball with,” Wells said. “Hannah has really improved a lot. She has put in a lot of hours and I’ve been there to help her through her recovery to where she is now.”
Where Hearld is now is this untouchable zone that is quickly turning her into one of Class 5A’s most dominant pitchers. She has pitched 18 innings through the first four games this season, and in that span has allowed only four hits and three walks, while striking out 37 batters.
Hearld has yet to allow a run while in the circle, and threw her first high school no-hitter in Game 1 of the season opener against Goodland on March 27, her first game back since tearing her ACL.
And Hearld would be the first to admit it could be a whole lot different if she wasn’t throwing to one of her best friends, who is also the unheralded leader of the team.
“Behind a good pitcher there is always a great catcher. Haley definitely makes me look good and is always there. She definitely doesn’t get the attention that she deserves,” Hearld said. “She is always bringing me up and cheering me on … she has a lot of confidence in me and that helps me with my pitching. She will always come out and talk to me and keep me going.”
While playing catcher isn’t the most glamorous of positions, it is one of the most important, and a role Wells has taken to heart. As the only senior in the infield — and one of only two seniors on varsity, along with outfielder Julie Balzer — there is a lot of pressure on her to lead the rest of the players.
“She gives a command and everyone echoes her so she’s always great in that leadership position,” Balzer said. “She involves everybody with everything. Even when she doesn’t know, she is still talking, still encouraging others.”
Wells said she really developed as a leader while playing volleyball and basketball this season, where she was the only senior on each team. Wells is more than happy to have a fellow cohort in Balzer this time around, but as the catcher and the one with the best view of the field and direct access to the pitchers, the Indians’ long-term success will have a lot to do with how Wells continues to find ways to push the younger players onward.
“When a catcher is doing their job, you kind of forget they are there. So sometimes I think she is a little under appreciated,” Maska said. “When you can have a leader that has the experience and talent to back up what they are saying and wanting others to do is always key. It gives them credibility and I think the girls are willing to follow Haley.”
And where Wells wants to take them is back to the state tournament. The senior is certainly willing to push and prod her teammates in that direction, but if things continue as they are, all she might have to do is continue to be at the receiving end of her friend’s familiar rise ball.
“I’ve played with Hannah for many, many years … it’s fun being a catcher for Hannah,” Wells said. “You can tell Hannah has a lot on her shoulders. There are a lot of people that have doubted her with her torn ACL and I think she’s shown it’s going to be a good year.”
The Indians’ next game is 6 p.m. Thursday at Salina South.