Ultra-competitive Lashley ready to play key role for Vikings
by Chris Hunt
North Mecklenburg softball pitcher Morgan Lashley will be the first to admit she’s stubborn. If someone tells her she can’t do something, she’ll bend over backward to prove them wrong.
Fellow Vikings agree with her personal assessment and eagerly shared stories about Lashley’s unusually competitive nature. Whether it’s the final inning of a heavily contested softball game or just a simple warm-up drill in practice, Lashley simply detests losing.
“Morgan hates losing more than she likes to win,” said North Meck catcher Sarah Mooney. “Even playing a stupid game in practice, when coach (Paul) Kikta curves the rules so the junior varsity can win, she still gets so frustrated.”
Lashley has always lived to prove her doubters wrong. As a softball player, she’s heard on more than one occasion that she doesn’t have the tools to succeed as a pitcher. The misguided whispers say she doesn’t have the speed on her rise ball to get batters out.
Those are words that fuel Lashley’s competitive fire.
Off the field, Lashley’s energetic personality rarely hides an emotion. But on the mound, she turns cold, staring down batters as if it was they who questioned her ability to pitch. Her icy gaze, however, is the least of her competitors’ problems. They should probably be more worried about the wicked break on her pitches that leaves even the most confident hitters befuddled.
“She has crazy movement on her pitches,” said Mooney. “I don’t know how she does it, but she just spins that ball and you can’t hit it.”
Lashley’s rubbery pitching motion is just one part of her total package. In the pitcher’s circle, she’s also mastered the art of making her fluttering offerings nibble at the plate, as proven by last season’s average of 1.63 walks per seven innings. As competitive as Lashley is, she’s not just going to hand a batter a free pass to first base.
It’s safe to say Lashley has enjoyed a big part in resurrecting the Viking softball program since transferring from Central Cabarrus after her freshman season. Since then, North Meck has won the last two conference championships. In 2010, Lashley’s frugal performance on the rubber collected 191 strikeouts and earned a record of 12-3. Along with a .434 on-base percentage at the plate, her efforts captured an I-MECK 4A all-conference nod last spring. She also was the 2009 conference pitcher of the year and signed a National Letter of Intent last winter to play college ball at Army.
“She puts everything into every pitch,” said Kikta. “She doesn’t take a play off.”
Lashley’s always had to make every pitch count to compensate for her lack of a power pitch. Instead of overpowering opponents, she out-works and even outthinks the opposition, keeping batters off balance and guessing. And still, this is the first season Lashley didn’t have to share the pitcher’s circle.
The past two years, she’s platooned with power pitcher Sara Allen, the 2010 I-MECK 4A Pitcher of the Year. As a freshman at Central Cabarrus, Lashley sat behind teammate Morgan Peeler, the 2008 MECA-7 4A conference Player of the Year who’s currently a pitcher at N.C. State. But with Allen pitching in college, Lashley will take the bulk of the starts this season, and she’s not the only one eager to see what she can do as the Vikings’ ace.
“I’m so pumped for Morgan,” said Mooney. “She’s shared the (circle) in the past, but I’m glad she’s getting her time to shine. It’s always been someone throws harder than her, but that doesn’t mean they’re a better pitcher. She has the attitude this year that she’s going to prove she has what it takes to be successful.”
The mental aspect of softball has always come easier to Lashley than most her teammates, but not because she’s some kind of a softball savant. Lashley has had to earn everything she’s accomplished on the field.
Heeding the advice of a former coach, Lashley volunteered as a seventh-grader to serve as the manager for Central Cabarrus’s varsity softball team, led by well-known coach Monte Sherrill, who is now at perennial state championship contender Alexander Central. Lashley attended Sherill’s softball camp in sixth grade and followed the program’s conference championship teams closely.
For two seasons as manager, Lashley wisely paid attention to each and every practice, soaking in the drills performed by the high school players. Then, as a freshman in 2008, she was comfortable enough with the game to earn a few innings behind Peeler before transferring to North Meck after Sherrill switched jobs.
“I loved watching practice,” said Lashley. “When I was little, I would cry if practice got rained out. I learned mostly about different situations in a game and the best way to approach an out. Coach Sherrill made me mentally tough and helped me relax when I wasn’t playing well.”
Learning to fly
At Central Cabarrus, Lashley played under the name Morgan Hopper before taking the maiden name of her mother, Paula Lashley, before her junior season at North Meck. Her nickname of “Hop” survived the name change and, to this day, Kikta still puts down “Hop” to mark Lashley’s position on the line-up card. Lashley’s fine with the nickname, but she takes more pride in sharing her mother’s last name, as well as the Lashley family’s competitive nature.
“I don’t like it when people doubt me,” said Lashley. “My mother and I have this competitive gene where we don’t like losing – even in cards. My mom peeks at my cards and calls it ‘strategy.’”
In a way, her mother’s family has not only contributed to her success in the pitching circle, it’s also influenced her college choice. Her grandfather, Jim Lashley, is a pilot who chauffeurs NASCAR drivers to and from the race track each weekend. His love of flying was passed down to his granddaughter, which molded her choice to attend Army, especially since the Airforce Academy does not have a softball team.
As a little girl, Lashley joined her grandfather for more than one trip through the skies and that’s where she found an intense desire to fly airplanes after college. So much so, she’s willing to commit to five years of service in the Army and three years in the U.S. Army Reserve after college to play for the Black Knights. There, she hopes to one day become a pilot – just like her grandfather.
Of course, her decision to attend Army also is another opportunity for the uber-competitive Viking to prove her doubters wrong.
“My friends say I can’t make it through boot camp,” said Lashley. “I want to prove to them that I can make it through tough times. I want to fly and I see myself staying in the military for a long time.”