For the first 10 games of the season, Lambert shortstop Megan Whitlatch sat out with a concussion. She was still in the dugout with her teammates, still the team captain who younger players looked up to and who head coach Dana Corr called the Lady Longhorns’ “little mama.”
But Whitlatch had something more to offer the team, something she refined over an entire summer of travel ball – her swing.
Whitlatch put her new swing on display in Lambert’s 3-0 and 7-2 wins over Dacula on Wednesday in the first round of the Class 6A tournament at home, totaling two home runs and five RBIs in the series sweep to help the Lady Longhorns advance to the second round for the first time in school history.
The Lady Longhorns (30-3) will play Collins Hill, who swept Woodstock, next Wednesday at home with the winner securing a berth in the Elite Eight in Columbus, Oct. 31-Nov. 1.
“We’re excited,” said Whitlatch, who was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader. “Last season it was a battle for us, so it was nice to shut down a good team. We’re just ready for the next round.”
It was a complete performance by Lambert. Kassie Howard impressed in two complete-game performances, pitching 13 scoreless innings at one point. The top of Lambert’s lineup of Maddie Butz, Savannah Huffstetler, Whitlatch, Howard and Marissa Guimbarda went 15-for-35 with seven extra base hits and nine RBIs. The Lady Longhorns committed just one error in 14 innings.
“They were just very fundamentally strong [Wednesday],” Corr said.
Whitlatch made sure they got off to a strong start.
Howard had already breezed through a scoreless top of the first inning in Game 1 and Huffstetler had tripled to right centerfield in the bottom of the inning when Whitlatch came up. She took a few pitches but didn’t let one chest high get by her. The senior uncorked a swift and sweet swing, belting a two-run home run over the left field fence to put Lambert up 2-0, the only runs it needed.
Guimbarda got Lambert started in Game 2, driving home Huffstetler and Whitlatch on a three-run home run in the top of the first inning. Whitlatch followed soon after.
After taking a low first-pitch strike, Whitlatch crushed another high fastball from Dacula pitcher Kendra Pfister over the left centerfield fence.
Lambert led 5-0, a sweep all but assured.
“When [the pitch] is higher it’s easier to hit out,” Whitlatch said, “because you can get some lift on it.”
Whitlatch couldn’t remember hitting a single home run a year ago as Lambert went 23-10 and lost in a tight three-game series to North Gwinnett in the first round of the state tournament. She was a team leader, a reliable glove in the field, a confident line drive hitter at the plate. Whitlatch knew she could be more.
Over an entire summer with Team Georgia Softball Academy’s 18-and-under team, Whitlatch focused on her swing. She tweaked it, analyzing its fundamentals and adjusting where necessary. The results have been undeniable.
Wednesday’s home runs were Whitlatch’s eighth and ninth of the season. In no game was Whitlatch’s power on display more than Sept. 26 against Chattahoochee when she went 4-for-4 with three home runs and seven RBIs.
“I really worked on my swing during travel ball season,” Whitlatch said. “I guess it paid off.”
“She’s been amazing,” Corr said. “She’s just so calm. She’s the captain. Very confident. All the girls look up to her as a leader.”