Stiles' Speed is a Game Changer
By Phillip Pongratz, Student Assistant
Without a speed threat on the base paths any team will have a difficult time manufacturing runs. With a player that is a threat, though, the whole game changes offensively and defensively. For the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga softball team, that player is senior centerfielder Lyndsey Stiles.
"My play is my speed," said Stiles. "Every ball I get to in the field and my ability to steal bases is because of my speed."
The biggest reason for Stiles' success offensively occurred between her freshman and sophomore campaigns. She switched from hitting right-handed, which she had done her whole life, to batting left-handed.
"I fought hitting left-handed for so long," she said. "My high school coach, Clifford Kirk, wanted to switch me in high school, and so did coach [Frank] Reed my freshman year, but I didn't want to."
For most softball players it would be difficult to switch from hitting on one side of the plate to the other, but for Stiles it was not.
"I caught on really, really fast," said Stiles. "It happened so easily and naturally because I see the ball a lot better from the left side. It also gives me an extra step when I am slapping and running towards first base."
The credit for the switch is given to head coach Frank Reed.
"Coach Reed told me I wouldn't regret it and he was right," Stiles said. "He made a great move by switching me."
The switch to the left side of the plate has had a major impact on the team as well. Being the leadoff hitter, Stiles is important in getting the team going.
"When she gets on base, everyone else is going to start hitting," said fellow teammate and left fielder Lauren Flores. "She builds a lot of momentum for the team."
Stiles has also become a perfectionist at the plate and is disappointed when she doesn't have an opportunity to showcase her speed.
"I am hard on myself when I don't even put the ball in play because I don't even give myself an opportunity to show my speed and show everyone that I am a threat," said Stiles.
She showcases her speed on the base paths by beating out ground balls for hits and swiping bases with efficiency.
Currently, Stiles is second on the career steals list at Chattanooga with 85 stolen bases heading into the Southern Conference tournament. She needs only 10 steals to pass former Lady Moc Jeannie Cochran, whom she replaced in centerfield, for first on the career list.
For her career, Stiles has been caught stealing only seven times, and so far this season she has been caught just once. She also broke the Lady Mocs single-season record with her 32nd at Western Carolina on May 7.
Stiles' speed is also a great asset in the field. During her career, she has been able to reach balls that most outfielders would not be able to get.
Against Elon this year, she made a diving stab coming in on a ball in right center field for the first out of the game and set the tone for the team defensively.
"I know I am quick enough to get to anything," stated Stiles. "If I give myself the opportunity to lay out for one, then I know I can be successful for it. Any chance I have, I am not scared of going for it."
For her outfield teammates Stiles is a great asset.
"It is awesome having Lyndsey in center field," said Flores. "She can cover a lot of ground and can make those diving catches. Most teams don't have a player that can change the momentum for the team like that. I know on my left side that she can cover a lot of ground."
The speed in the field led to Stiles posting back-to-back perfect fielding seasons in 2009 and 2010. For her career, Stiles has made only four errors with two coming her freshman year and two thus far this season.
In the field this season, she has set a career-high in assists and putouts. In the final home game of the year and on senior day against Georgia Southern, Stiles fielded a single that was hit up the middle and gunned the throw home to beat the runner by a mile.
Along with career-high statistics in the field, Stiles has put up career-highs at the plate and on the base path. Entering the conference tournament, she has put up career-highs in batting average, RBI, runs scored, triples, stolen bases, slugging percentage and on-base percentage.
This season she set new single-season records for stolen bases and runs scored with 32 and 57, respectively.
The conference has also recognized what Stiles has accomplished on the field as she was named to a All-Southern Conference team each year. She was awarded second team honors her freshman year in 2008 and recognized on the first team the past two seasons.
In the 2009 SoCon Tournament at Jim Frost Stadium, Stiles batted .500 with four runs and two stolen bases in four games to be named to the SoCon All-Tournament Team as the Lady Mocs won their 10th league title.
Stiles is also one of the leaders of the team off the field.
"I try to be disciplined and a great student to show the younger girls that being a student-athlete is more than just playing ball," said Stiles. "I have proven that you can be good at being both a student and an athlete."
In the classroom, she has made the Dean's List every semester except for one since the 2008-09 school year. Stiles gives credit to her parents for her success in the classroom.
"They always push me to expect more out of myself and for me to go to school, play ball and be a student before an athlete," she said. "They have done well with preparing me for the real world."
Stiles will be graduating with a degree in exercise science and pedagogy in December of 2011 and plans to be a health teacher in middle school. She has decided to be a teacher because she wants to be around kids and influence them to be the best that they can be.
Also off the field, if a teammate has any issues she is the one they go to.
"She is the person that you call with an issue," said senior Tiffany Baker. "She jokes that she is the team psychologist."
Stiles will be missed greatly next season. She has been a fixture at the top of the line-up for the past three years. What will be missed the most though is the speed she brings at the plate, on the base paths and in the field.