E.A. Sports Today

‘So what’

Vipers head into break 2-11, but always enthusiastic Smith brings her unerring encouragement to teammates: ‘I know we have it in us’

By Joe Medley
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD — Makena Smith talks. From first pitch to last pitch, and from the previous pitch to the next pitch, she’s the Smash It Sports Vipers’ hot-corner auctioneer of enthusiasm.

Smash It Sports Vipers third baseman Makena Smith offers encouragement during the team’s 8-0 loss to the USSSA Pride on Monday. (Photo by Joe Medley)

She has every pitcher’s name reduced to a single syllable. Amber Fiser is “Ber,” Sierra Hyland “Si” and Meghan Schorman “Meg.”

Pitch looks good? “Like it, Ber!”

Batter walks? “So what, Meg!”

Pitcher grinding? “You work, we work, Si!”

Third out? Smith stands along the third-base line, and teammates gather around her on the way to the dugout.

Scoreboard, schmoreboard. She’s that player, she explains through a froggy voice after seven innings of Women’s Professional Fastpitch softball.

A breath without words is wasted, and it’s no put-on.

“It’s mainly for my teammates,” the rookie from Cal said. “I know I appreciate when people are loud for me. 

“I like to think that, since I was young, my voice was the biggest help for me getting anywhere.”

So, what’s the word for the Vipers, as they head into a week’s break between games with a 2-11 record?

With her lower left arm wrapped in ice because of a collision on her final at bat Monday, she did her best to quell the swelling … for her teammates.

“Obviously, we’re not having the best start to the season, but there’s a long season left,” she said. “I know we have it in us. Things are going to fall our way for sure.”

Bet that Smith believes it, even after the Vipers suffered a series sweep against the third-place Pride (5-9) and dug deeper into last place in the four-team WPF.

For a bright spot, first-round draft pick Ashley Rogers, who pitched Tennessee to the Women’s College World Series, will come online after the break. The Vipers have had her in a conditioning program after the college season, and her time has arrived.

“We’re looking for her to give a lift,” Vipers general manager Don DeDonatis said. “She’ll be back. She’ll throw in that first series. She’s been doing long toss, and she’s been stretching. She’s gotten through it OK.

“We didn’t want to test anything right now before (the break). As long as you can get an extra five or six days, why would you?”

Rogers’ readiness comes as the Vipers await an MRI on Annie Willis, who suffered what Vipers coach Gerry Glasco called an “arm injury” in their 6-1 loss to the Pride on Sunday.

As evidenced by home losses of 8-3, 6-1 and 8-0 to the WPF’s next-to-last team, the Vipers need something to turn their first season in Oxford. Among other things, they need leadership.

That’s one thing DeDonatis counted on when the Vipers drafted Smith in the fourth round in April.

“That’s one of the reasons why we took a look at her and wanted to bring her on,” DeDonatis said. “She’s a leader. She’s definitely a gamer.”

The only time one doesn’t hear Smith’s voice is when she brings a bat to the box. She lets her walk-up music talk for her.

More like she lets “Cold As Ice” talk to her, and not the original Foreigner version. She steps up to Alvin And the Chipmunks, from The Squeakquel.

“I had it in college, and It kind of gets me pumped up, and that’s how I carry myself,” she said. “It’s a good emanation about how I feel about getting in the box.”

She who draws inspiration from Alvin’s crew believes, and Smith does her best to keep her teammates believing. Lord knows, she had to shake off arguably the worst break to befall the Vipers this season.

She crushed an apparent game-tying home run in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Oklahoma City Spark. The ball appeared to fly solidly over the foul pole.

It was ruled a foul ball, and the Vipers lost 3-2 with a chance for their first series victory of the season.

So, when Smith talks of things eventually falling the Vipers’ way, it’s not just a hot take. She’s had her faith tested as much as anyone on the roster.

“That’s a good emanation of how our season has been,” she said. “It’s like, every call that’s maybe on the border or should go our way doesn’t. …

“I think, after the break, once we get some rest and people come back and get a little bit healthier, we’ll be in a good spot to come out firing with a chip on our shoulder, and I know we can do it.”

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