LE GRAND - The idea that a stereotypical leadoff batter has to slap hit, steal bases or get sacrificed around to score was shrugged aside by the East Marshall softball team.
The Mustangs made the unconventional work unlike any other this summer, thanks in great part to a feisty fifth-year starter at the forefront.
East Marshall senior Alyssa Whitmore finished off her fifth season as starting shortstop with her best year yet, battering the opposition in helping the Mustangs set a school record for wins on their way to a fifth-place finish in the Class 3A state tournament.
East Marshall shortstop Alyssa Whitmore was named the 2012 Times-Republican All-Area Softball Team’s Player of the Year after completing her fifth season as a starter on the diamond in Le Grand. Whitmore was a five-time first-team all-NICL West Division selection and a five-time All-Area pick.
And after grabbing nearly every accolade out there along the way, Whitmore takes her softball career to Marshalltown Community College with one last prep award - the Times-Republican's 2012 All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
Whitmore was a five-time all-NICL West Division first-team selection and a five-time All-Area pick as well, warranting every honor she got since her eighth-grade campaign by playing the game the same way every day.
"Not a fear of anything," Mustang head coach Jary Hoskey said. "Al's not scared of anything. Her toughness, her competitiveness has made her what she is today and that's one heck of a softball player for East Marshall."
2012 T-R All-Area Softball Team
Player of the Year - Alyssa Whitmore, East Marshall
Coach of the Year - Jeff Lamb, Marshalltown
Taylor Vaske, sr., Marshalltown: An honorable mention all-CIML Iowa Conference selection, Vaske earns her second T-R honor after going 14-12 with a 2.70 earned run average.
Ashley Sicard, fr., AGWSR: The Cougars' fireballer finished 22-9 with 199 strikeouts, 10th-best in Class 2A.
Nicolette Simpson, so., BCLUW: Diminutive hurler was 17-9 with a 1.55 ERA and 133 strikeouts in 166 2/3 innings.
Haley Long, so., East Marshall: Went 19-3 in the circle for one of the winningest teams in the state.
Taylor Wagner, jr., Marshalltown: The Bobcats' first all-state softball representative since 2001 has verbally committed to Eastern Michigan. She hit .459 with 19 doubles, 5 homers and 26 RBIs to lead Marshalltown's first-ever state qualifier. A four-time All-Area selection.
Sarah McCoy, jr., BCLUW: Returning All-Area catcher led the Comets with 47 hits, 3 homers and .402 batting average. All-state 2nd-teamer.
Chelsea Whitmore, sr., East Marshall: Starting third baseman hit .392 with 12 doubles and 54 RBIs. A three-time all-NICL West first-team honoree.
McKenna Hotopp, jr., West Marshall: Trojans' talented shortstop gains second T-R honor after leading team with .359 batting average, 32 runs, 10 doubles, 2 homers and 16 stolen bases.
Taylor Fricke, fr., East Marshall: Young slugger bopped six home runs, totaled 30 RBIs and led the NICL West with .491 batting average.
Emily Havelka, sr., GMG: Elite all-Iowa Star Conference shortstop set school record with .542 batting average, led league with 4 triples.
Cassidy Blackford, fr., Marshalltown: Up-and-comer hit .520 over final two weeks of regular season and regionals.
Abby Nuese, sr., East Marshall: Center fielder racked up 13 doubles, five homers and 39 RBIs in the middle of a potent Mustang lineup.
Allison Zobel, jr., North Tama: Iowa Star's third-leading hitter and elite all-conference selection, Zobel hit .477 with 7 doubles.
Paige Thompson, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck: Three-time all-NICL West pick was Rebels' first all-state selection since 2006, overcoming offseason knee surgery. Led G-R with .431 batting average, 8 doubles, and an 8-6 record in the circle.
Katie Roseland, jr., East Marshall: Shared Class 3A lead and ranked third overall with a school-record 14 home runs. Starting catcher hit .366 with 13 doubles and 56 RBIs, which ranked 10th in Iowa.
Morgan Rose, so., AGWSR: Second-team all-state and all-district pick led Cougars with .412 average, 11 doubles and 37 RBIs.
Molly Anderson, sr., Colo-NESCO; Madi Bellile, jr., Marshalltown; Olivia Callaway, 8th, BCLUW; Jennifer Davis, so., West Marshall; Sydney Fehr, sr., North Tama; Mariah Fritz, fr., East Marshall; Kayla Holbach, sr., Gladbrook-Reinbeck; Sarah Johns, sr., Grundy Center; Jenn Maus, sr., South Tama; Paige Miller, jr., East Marshall; Danielle Montgomery, sr., BCLUW; Samantha Riese, fr., Colo-NESCO; Kristen Zacharias, jr., AGWSR.
It's a determination that matches her expressionless mug on the diamond.
"I'm not a smiley person," Whitmore said. "I just don't show much; it's my game face."
Her game, for the last five years, has been a successful one. Whitmore graduates as a career .400 hitter thanks to a .488 average in a senior season in which she defied the traditional.
The right-handed hitter connected for 26 doubles - second-best in all of Iowa - while still reaching base at a .559 clip.
"I'm not so sure any coach would want to see her coming to bat with runners in scoring position with the way she handles the bat and hits with power and also speed," said Hoskey, whose first year as Mustang head coach coincided with an eighth-grader starting at shortstop in 2008. "She'll be sorely missed at shortstop, not only with her offensive production but also her defense.
"I think it's her pitch selection. She's a heady hitter, she hits the pitch that she wants to hit, she doesn't hit the pitcher's pitch - and not only hits it but hits it with power. If you've got a leadoff hitter that leads off with a double, that just puts so much pressure on the other team's defense. That's why we win ballgames."
Thirty-two of them, to be exact. East Marshall was ranked as high as fifth in Class 3A this past summer and ended up 32-6 overall after sharing the NICL West title with BCLUW. Whitmore's senior season, and her high school career, came to an end at the only place she would allow it - Fort Dodge.
"To end my career at Fort Dodge was like icing on the cake," she said. "I always dreamed of going to the state tournament and I knew if it was going to happen it was going to be this year. I don't think I would have felt that my career would have been complete without going to the state tournament.
"It was always a goal and if I would have accomplished all of them except making it to the state tournament I wouldn't have felt as complete."
Her desire to reach that ultimate goal helps to explain why she rarely shared a smile on the softball field. She'd been at it since eighth grade and had come up short every summer before this one.
"East Marshall softball would not be where it's at today without the hard work of this girl," Hoskey said. "She started as an eighth-grader and her first game we batted her ninth. I wasn't sure of her offensive production, she had two doubles and we won the game 4-2, and she progressively moved up (the batting order).
"I think during her eighth-grade year we batted her third and she stayed there her freshman and sophomore years, then we moved her to leadoff and look what she's done."
Defined consistency, for one thing. Whitmore had at least one hit in all but eight games since taking over the leadoff spot as a junior. That's 64 of 72 games with a hit.
In five years she missed only one of 158 games but was in the bleachers in Le Grand cheering on her teammates.
"There's so many accolades, but probably the thing that I enjoyed about her so much is she's tough," said Hoskey. "You knock he down, she'll get up. She's not scared of having a girl slide into her, getting hit by a pitch, taking the runner out at third base - that's just the way Al is. She's not scared of sliding into home plate into a bigger catcher, she's done that.
"It's going to be a long while before East Marshall has another one like her."
Marshalltown Community College will be the next one to get her. Tigers head coach Jeff Lamb, who also coached at Marshalltown High School for the first time this summer, was eager to gain the services of a proven, local talent and a feisty competitor.
"The thing you notice the most is she is so competive," said Lamb, the T-R All-Area Softball Team's Coach of the Year. "She's so competitive that she pushes herself to be better, that's a great attribute. We're going to put her in a position she needs to be in because she wants to be that person at the plate with the game on the line."
Or in the field. Whitmore graduated with a career fielding percentage of .917 at one of the hottest spots on the infield.
Her all-around play made her a leader on the team whether she idealized herself as one, because she certainly wasn't a vocal presence.
"She's going to be the dirtiest kid coming off the field every night, she's going to dive for balls, she's going to go head-first, slide by, whatever she has to do to make it happen," said Mustang assistant coach - and Alyssa's father - Mike Whitmore. "Lucky to have a kid that you don't have to coach. You just can't say enough about her."