FLOSSMOOR | Some softball players wear eye black when they take the field, in part to appear menacing or serious about the game they are about to play.
When Homewood-Flossmoor junior Kaitlyn Shereyk took the field the first game this season, she also had a look that was both serious and menacing, though her appearance was from no choice of her own.
Instead of wearing eye black, Shereyk was wearing a black eye.
Shereyk, a three-year starter for the Vikings, received her contusion a few days prior to the season opener against Munster when a practice ball she was fielding hit a small rock in the infield. The ball jumped high and caught her hard on her left cheek.
The result was a shiner that was so visible that it even made a Munster player verbally take note of the sight while the players were at home plate before the start of the contest.
"Actually, at first, I was in shock when it happened," Shereyk said. "The next day, I couldn't even squint my eye. I looked like a boxer. My teammates were like, 'you should show it off,'' but I asked the school nurse if I could wear sunglasses at school. People gave me weird looks, but I didn't want people to stare at my eye all day."
Shereyk is much more accustomed to drawing the attention of people for her eye at the plate. The junior shortstop led the Vikings midway through the season with a .588 batting average and a whopping 1.059 slugging percentage. She also was tops for the team in home runs (six), RBIs (23) and walks (eight).
"She has confidence up there and sees the ball really well," Vikings coach Katie Rice-Hoger said. "She knows that she is either going to get a hit or get walked. Pitchers will try and pitch around her, get behind in the count, and then they've got to put it in there."
Shereyk's bat has led a resurgence of the Vikings' offense, which was the key to the team winning five of six games earlier this month which improved their overall mark to 10-6.
"We have the talent, and hopefully we'll be more successful than last year," Shereyk said. "I feel we are ahead of where we were last year. This year, we believe we can come back and win any game, even if we are down to our last out."
Rice-Hoger spent most of the early season, searching for combinations in the field and in the batting order, but now feels the girls are harvesting the results of that search and a grueling nonconference schedule. For Shereyk, the juggling act has been minimal, as she has spent her time this season either at shortstop or center field, depending on who is pitching. She hits primarily out of the fourth slot in the batting order.
Along with the team adjustments, Shereyk has made some personal adjustments, as well, in her approach at the plate this season.
"A lot of things have changed," Shereyk said. "I'm more of a patient hitter, and now I stand taller in the box, where before I used to crowd (the plate) because I wanted to hit the ball so bad. Now I relax more."
After a home victory against T.F. South during which Shereyk hit a home run, she grabbed a rake to help her teammates perform a little field maintenance before calling it a day. Though Shereyk would much rather rake a softball at the plate then rake the infield after a game, the importance of field maintenance has taken on a greater meaning to the team leader after she caught that practice grounder with her cheek instead of her glove. The black eye may be gone now, but the memory of that practice play remains as vivid as ever for Shereyk.
"Before and after a game, I'll rake," she said before breaking into a smile. "And I'll especially make sure that area around where I play is good."