Monday, May 28, 2012
A record season for Blackstone's Picard
By John McGuirk
UPTON, Mass. -- When Bella Picard was told she had the highest overall batting average in the nation, her response was short and simple.
“That’s cool,” she would say.
Not one who covets accolades, Picard prefers to do her talking on the softball diamond. This season, in particular, the Blackstone Valley Tech junior has been doing just that, albeit in very loud fashion.
Picard closed out the regular season with an incredible .877 average, (57 hits in 65 at-bats) which ranks first among all high school players in the country, according to MaxPreps.com. Prior to her final regular-season game against Douglas last Wednesday, her average stood at .902.
For someone who only picked up the sport three years ago, that statistic, along with her 10 home runs and 43 RBIs, is even more astonishing.
“She’s always made contact with the ball,” Beavers head coach Denise Medaglia said. “But now she’s not getting cheap hits. It’s been line drives smoked up the middle or over the fence. She’s got a very hard swing. If other teams throw her anything around the plate Bella is going to hit it.”
Batting leadoff, Picard has been the catalyst behind the Beavers’ success throughout this season’s campaign. BVT finished the regular season with a 14-4 record. They now await the start of the Division 3 Central Mass. tournament.
Blackstone Valley Tech shortstop Bella Picard has not only led the nation in batting average, the converted soccer player also is among the region's top infield gloves.
Evidence came early in how truly special a player Picard would be. Medaglia, who took over the reins here in 2006, says when Picard arrived as a freshman two years ago, she saw a young, raw player with tremendous eye-hand coordination and a strong desire to flourish.
“When she was a freshman she really didn’t know that much about softball,” Medaglia said. “She was just a natural talent and I saw that right away and felt she was really going to be an amazing player.”
Amazing might be considered a vast understatement in this case. Picard, who also stands out defensively at shortstop with a .913 fielding percentage, has punished opposing pitchers with reckless abandon. Playing in the Colonial Athletic League, Picard has faced pitchers with various velocities. Some have delivered pitches over 55 mph while others have used the lob-toss method in trying to get her out. Neither has proven successful as Picard has been able to adapt extensively to whatever pitch comes her way.
“One of my strengths is adjusting to different types of pitches at the plate,” she said.
Picard credits her last two seasons playing for the 18-U Worcester Hawks summer league program as a key reason for her steady progression. Having worked with the likes of legendary softball mentors, including Hall of Fame coach Ralph Raymond and USA Softball Women’s National Team and University of South Florida head coach Ken Eriksen, Picard has been able to hone in her skills at the plate, making the necessary changes needed in her approach and style at the plate to become one of the very best.
“Coach Eriksen told me the only way for me to be successful is to be comfortable at the plate,” Picard said. “He said just swing at the pitch. If you like it then go for it. Coach Raymond said my swing needed to be at least 60 mph. This year I finally started to figure that out and it just sort of clicked from there. That was something I wasn’t doing my freshman and sophomore years.”
Also an establish soccer player, Picard was forced to put that sport to a halt last season after having been diagnosed with Compartment Syndrome -- a compression of nerves, blood vessels and muscles inside a closed area to both of her calves. Last November she underwent successful surgery to repair the damage. With her soccer career finished, Picard has focused all of her attention to softball. Because softball doesn’t require the same amount of stress put on your legs the way soccer does, Picard says she has been able to go about her business on the field without pain or discomfort.
There is no doubt Picard is a Division 1 college talent. Where she decides to take her talents after she is through at BVT still remains to be seen.
“She is going Division 1 that’s for sure,” Medaglia said. “I’ll help her in anyway I can to get there. She is such a fast learner. If she is missing a key element in her game at that level you know she will work on it until the cows come home. Her work ethic is ridiculous. It’s better than anyone I have ever seen.”
While some might judge that because Picard plays in a weak Division 3 high school division, where statistics can be padded, Medaglia is quick counter that notion, stating Picard is talented enough to excel at any level or in any division.
When Picard graduated from middle school, she faced a dilemma as to what high school she would attend. Picard had two options. She go go to the town’s public high school Nipmuc Regional or try to learn a trade at BVT. Picard wasted no time in making her choice.
“People tend to downgrade the tech schools,” said Picard, whose is studying business technology. “My older brother [Michael, a former football standout] graduated from here in 2008 and my other brother [Julian, a top-rated running back] is a senior here. I really love it here. I’m so glad I chose to come here. To be honest I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Along with her brothers, Picard comes from highly-touted athletic family. One older sister, Ashley, is a cheerleader for the Boston Celtics while another, Maria, enjoyed a stellar soccer career at UConn.
Now it's her time to carry on the family athletic tradition and has done so marvelously.
“I’ve played on several New England All-Star teams and yet I have never seen anyone as talented as Bella,” said former BVT standout pitcher and current assistant coach Lori Saucier, who is Medeglia’s sister. “She is without question the best hitter I have ever seen. I was a pitcher and if I were facing her I would never pitch to her.”