By Ashley McCleery
The North Jefferson News
She rolls the ball in her hand, dusting off the sand and cups it in her glove. Staring at her target, the catcher, she winds up and lets the ball fly. The ball zips past the batter and pounds into catcher’s glove, making this her 213th strikeout of the 314 games she pitched during the 2006 season at Tuscaloosa Academy.
For 16-year old Gardendale resident Laurin Watts, softball has become her bread and butter. “When I was three I started playing tee ball. I fell in love with the game,” Watts said. “I’ve fallen in love with it ever since.”
Her mother, Kathy, said she was a great player from the start. At age 5, she even knocked a boy down, colliding with him in order to tag him out. “She lives it, eats it, drinks it and sleeps it,” Kathy said.
But this Lady Night of the Year, an honor given by her high school, has put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into her favorite sport, especially in learning the art of pitching.
When Watts was 10-years old, she looked at her dad and asked him for pitching lessons because she wanted to be a division I pitcher. “I started pitching, and I thought, ‘This is going to be my thing. I want to do this for the rest of my life.’”
Watts has continued pitching lessons for six years and can now throw seven different pitches including drop ball, curve ball, screw ball, knuckle ball, change ball and rise ball. Her pitching coach, former University of Alabama pitcher and 2006 Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Stephanie VanBrakle, said Watts is consistently throwing 63 mph fastballs.
“In the year I’ve worked with her, her spin and movement on the ball has increased a lot,” VanBrakle said. “She has one of the best drop balls I’ve seen. She’s also got a great screw and good curve.”
As Watts became more skilled as a pitcher, she knew she needed to make a decision about joining a high school softball team. Although Kathy said North Jefferson has great public schools, the Watts’ family sought a small school with an established softball program, which led her to Tuscaloosa Academy.
“He [Tuscaloosa Academy softball coach Billy White] needed a starting pitcher, and we needed a private school with a strong softball program. It was perfect timing,” Kathy said.
While pitching for the Lady Nights last year, the All Tournament Team earned the title Alabama Independent School Association (AISA) 3A State Champions. Watts also hit 12 home runs in the 2006 season, helping the team break the state home run record held by Baker High School.
“When I fell in love with the game, I knew it was going to take a lot of hard work to get there. But, it has paid off,” Watts said.
Yet, Watts’ talent isn’t just displayed on Tuscaloosa Academy’s field. This past summer, she played travel ball with Peaches Gold based in Columbus, Ga., traveling to Florida, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Georgia. At age 15, she was the youngest player to ever make the team.
Now that school’s back in session, Tuscaloosa Academy softball coach Billy White said he couldn’t wait to work with Laurin again this year. “She’s one of the hardest workers, always staying positive,” White said. “For Laurin, the sky’s the limit.”
By Ashley McCleery