FALKNER—This season, the Falkner Lady Eagles missed the slow-pitch softball playoffs for the first time in two years. It’s not because senior outfielder Melissa Maldonado didn’t try her best to get them there.
Maldonado, the lone senior on a team made up of mostly freshmen and sophomores, was the clear leader for the Lady Eagles this season. Head coach Jeremy White called her a “complete” leader.
“She lead by words and at the same time she led by example,” said White, who has coached the native of Mexico for four years. “She would tell you what to do, and show you the way to do it right. She was a complete leader. Some lead by example.”
White said that during seventh period, Maldonado would guide the younger players through batting practice. White said at times he let her teach while he attended to other duties. He trusted her. She knows how to bat as proved by a Div. 1-1A offensive player of the year award as a sophomore. She was beat out by power hitting Rayanna Edgeston last year. Maldonado is the team batting leader again this season.
White said it’s good to see a player translate what he has taught on the field, and then try to teach it to other players. He said it’s similar to having another assistant coach.
“It’s fun to be able to watch her teach. She’s been with the program and learned it. Now she’s helping others with it,” added White. “She’s like a third coach on the field. A lot of times, I can set her at a position and she would tell the other players what to do based on where she was. She would position players, and I wouldn’t even have to tell them.”
White said starting freshman shortstop Janna Walden has the same drive as Maldonado. Walden started in the outfield as a seventh-grader and was the starting shortstop last season.
“She’s very supportive and she knows how to encourage others,” said Walden. “She comes out there ready to play and her energy rubs off on the rest of us. She gets us motivated.”
Maldonado said the drive to encourage comes from her maturation over the years. Some of her personal experiences growing up makes her aggressive on the field and encouraging in the dugout.
“It all the stuff that I go through, all the pain,” said Maldonado, who came to Falkner at age six. “ I’ve learned how to become a better person and teach others how to be a better person on the field, off the field, on the court, off the court. I just push everyone else to do better. And I guess that’s why I can hit good. I take all my anger out on the ball.”
She certainly did by batting .469 with 30 hits, seven home runs and 23 RBI in 24 games.
At those batting practices, Maldonado said she told her teammates to calm down at the plate, something that always helped her.
“I just told them to relax,” she said. “I have to relax when I’m hitting. I can’t be worried about everything else and stressed about everything and just concentrating to hard. I have to spit and have fun. That’s what I told them. Just relax and throw your hands at it.”
She said not making the playoffs in her senior year was tough, but this has been one of her best years. The Lady Eagles finished 8-16.
“It was tough. It still is tough, getting the concept of it’s your senior year and you’re not going to the playoffs when you gave it your all,” Maldonado said. “There have been ups and downs, but this year it’s been my best year. We’ve grown so much. It’s like we’re sisters. Nothing can come between us.”
White let Maldonado play all 10 positions in her final game against Thrasher, a win. After a couple of innings, Maldonado changed positions after an out. She caught one inning and recorded an out at almost every position according to White. He did it as a show of appreciation.
“With her being a senior, that was just to say, you’ve done so much,” he said. “That’s something not a lot of people can say, that they played all 10 positions in a high school regulated game.
White will coach Maldonado in basketball and fast-pitch softball before she graduates in May. He said her leadership and work ethic will be missed.
“She meant so much as a leader. She was always one—most of the time—if you needed an out or a hit, if she was coming up she was gonna get it. Always gave 110 percent. There were times she wasn’t feeling good but she still gave it her all.”