The runner stepped on first base, so it was time for Sofia Tapia to take charge during South Forsyth softball practice Monday. The Lady War Eagles’ catcher stepped in front of home plate and shouted, "Force on two, no outs." When head coach Ronnie Davis put down a bunt, it was up to Tapia to direct the defense on which base to throw to – the safe toss to first base to get the batter or the riskier throw to second to get the lead runner. Tapia had less than a second to make the call, the kind of split-second judgments she makes now out of habit from playing the sport since she was 9.
"One," she shouted, and South’s charging first baseman scooped up the ball and threw it to first a few steps ahead of the runner.
She’s been making those decisions ever since her family moved from Westchester County just north of New York City when she was 8 and came to Forsyth County. The cost of living was better, and there was family in the area. For Tapia, it meant she could play softball. She had played in an all-girls baseball league in New York because there were no softball teams. The coach saw her strong throwing arm and put her behind the plate, even if it was an unconventional place for a lefty.
Tapia fell for the position right away, though she didn’t know then the mental and physical toll to come. The toll is easier take during seasons like this, with South at 11-2-1 overall, 10-1 in Region 6-AAAAAA and asserting itself as a contender for the region title that eluded the Lady War Eagles last season when they came a game away from defeating rival Lambert in the championship series.
"It’s been [motivating] a lot," Tapia said. "Lambert’s always been our rival. Before last season, we hadn’t ever lost to them, and last year we did. That rivalry is so strong. It’s very intense."
The Lady War Eagles lost to Lambert again this season, an 8-0 defeat on Aug. 21 in the teams’ only meeting, but they haven’t lost since. South had won six straight entering Tuesday’s game against Chattahoochee, which ended too late for this edition, and Tapia has had memorable moments along the way. There was the grand slam against North Forsyth to put a 9-1 victory out of reach. There was the 3-for-3 night against West Forsyth that helped clinch a regular season sweep of the Lady Wolverines.
Those were good signs for Tapia. She’d been struggling with her confidence and a shoulder issue during the travel ball season. Her consistency and strength at the plate had suffered.
But Tapia’s grown accustomed to the brutal life behind the plate.
"I definitely get bruises all the time," Tapia said. "I’m used to that."
She’s used to icing her shoulder after every game. After a hard practice, she’ll take an ice bath. It’s just for eight minutes, but "those are my worst enemy," she said. If she doesn’t catch a pitch just right, her thumb pays for it.
"My thumb has been through some tough times," Tapia said.
Tapia shrugs it off because no other player has as much responsibility on the field. It’s on Tapia to keep her teammates in the game. She calls out defensive adjustments when runners are on base. Davis even trusts Tapia to call pitches, a rarity on the high school level.
"It’s basically from knowing the game and knowing the players," Tapia said. "We’ll do scouting reports before the game, and you’ll see who [hitters] are, if they pull the ball or if they’re late, or if they don’t like changeups. We know that beforehand so when they come up we’re ready for them."
And so Tapia also feels the burden of all those responsibilities. The hits and runs hurt.
"I feel it just as much as the pitcher does," Tapia said, "because I’m the one who called the pitch."
Those moments have been rare this season in Tapia’s second on varsity. She’s among the group of underclassmen last season who nearly won the region title, who hosted a first round state playoff series and who are back eager to take the next step.
"We just have to play our level of game and play how we know to play and stay together as a team," Tapia said. "Have our preparation well, and every practice play hard so we can win every game.
"We all want to play for that ring."