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Knights slugger Lucas earning foes’ respect

April 8, 2019

ONA — Aretha Franklin sang “R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me.”

To Rielly Lucas, respect means intentional walks. One of the more-feared sluggers in West Virginia and Tri-State high school softball, Lucas has been pitched around multiple times this season, even drawing five walks in as many plate appearances in a game at Spring Valley. Opponents have walked her 19 times in 15 games.

“I know a lot of people don’t like it, but that was our strategy we had for her,” Spring Valley coach Scott Adkins said of putting Lucas on base. “That shows the respect we have for her.”

Lucas was visibly upset after that game, a 10-9 loss in which she came to the plate with runners on base each time, only to have the bat taken out of her hands. George Washington also intentionally walked her twice. The free passes led Lucas to pressing at the plate so that when foes pitched to her she swung at pitches she normally would have taken.

“If I had to pick one thing that I need to work on, it would be my hitting,” Lucas said, adding that she doesn’t want the reputation as a power-over-hit player. “I hit home runs, but I need to learn to hit different pitches. I get too eager.”

The more teams have pitched around her, however, the more Lucas realized they’re paying her a compliment. Since then, she has her eye back and is laying off pitches out of the strike zone.

“At first I was frustrated,” Lucas said. “Now, it’s become more of a confidence booster for me that they don’t want me to hit.”

The power-hitting sophomore first baseman has smashed six home runs, including a grand slam, this season, displaying power that prompts opponents to walk her even when first base isn’t open. Lucas leads the Knights in batting average (.589), on base percentage (.711), runs scored (27) and is second in runs batted in (25).

Colleges have taken notice and shown interest. Marshall University offered her a scholarship before a NCAA rules change prohibited schools from making such offers before September of a player’s junior year.

“It’s probably a good rule,” said Lucas, who plans to be an orthodontist. “Before the change, you had seventh graders getting offers from colleges. This way, it gives you time to mature and you still have time to make your decision. I’m not focusing on which school I’ll go to, but I have an offer from Marshall and I’ve attended camps at Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference schools. My options are open. When the time comes to make my decision, I’ll know.”

Colleges likely will flock to Lucas not only because of her softball ability, but because of her academics. She also volunteers with Special Olympics. Lucas said she counts working out, particularly CrossFit, and spending time with her family as what she likes to do off the field.

“School comes first,” she said. “My parents always tell me that. It all starts in the classroom.”

At 5-foot-9, Lucas features the long levers of a power hitter from the right side of the plate. She’s not a plodding base clogger, however, as the athleticism that makes her a strong basketball and volleyball player translates to softball.

Born on Valentines Day, Lucas said before she started playing softball she envisioned herself on stage.

“I was in plays,” Lucas said, with a smile. “I was an actress. I wouldn’t go back to it, but I liked it.”

Opposing pitchers probably would buy tickets to her performance if she’d give up softball and return to the stage.