Arizona State's Haro is movin' on up
Arizona State freshman Talor Haro knows the feeling.
One of the Sun Devils' unlikeliest potential postseason heroes, Haro continued a torrid May with four singles in her team's small-ball onslaught in a 7-3 win against Missouri on the opening day of the Women's College World Series.
Haro and Jessica Mapes, the two primary slappers at the top of an Arizona State order loaded with power, combined for eight singles on a day when the Sun Devils stranded 13 runners and didn't have any extra-base hits. It's not exactly the typical modus operandi for a team that is slugging nearly .550 this season, but it worked.
And it worked in large part because of a player who was barely a factor as recently as four weeks ago and who entered the NCAA tournament with just 39 at-bats and 12 hits.
With her performance Thursday, she now has 12 hits in 16 postseason at-bats.
Haro didn't exactly come out of nowhere. She was a two-time all-state selection in high school in Arizona, but a dislocated elbow following a collision with the wall last fall knocked her off the pace in her transition to the college game. And if you fall off the pace on Arizona State's depth chart, it's a little like falling out of the draft of cars at the Daytona 500.
Kaitlin Cochran may be the only player in Tempe whose hold on a starting spot is anything more than tenuous.
"This is the Pac-10," Arizona State coach Clint Myers said. "You've got to figure that every player that is on a team was either a star or close to it [in high school]. Nobody recruits a bench player; it's an adjustment for all of them. But I mean, I'm a lot crazier than most of the Pac-10 coaches. We've got 20 kids on the roster right now, and I'll play 16, 17 of them in a game."
That's a bargain any player makes when he or she signs at a top program.
"I wanted to go anywhere in the Pac-10, any big school, and I knew any school would have an amount of good girls and a good roster," Haro said. "So I knew it would be a challenge to fight for a spot, but I was ready for it."
Perhaps a little too ready for the challenge. Haro recalled that early on in the spring, she was so overeager, she'd find herself already out of the batter's box by the time the ball hit the catcher's glove. She started the team's opening game and struck out three times in three at-bats. She finished the opening week 0-for-7 with four strikeouts.
The effort was there, as evidenced by earning a spot in the opening day lineup, but the finished product was less than the sum of the parts.
"She really did well when she came back, but she didn't have the experience of the mental side," Myers said. "And what she's doing now -- it's smarter, not harder. When she first started the season, everything was harder, not smarter."
With just 27 at-bats between Feb. 13 and May 7, Haro had to resign herself to making the most of practice cuts, pinch-running opportunities and occasional pinch-hitting opportunities. It was a couple of those pinch-hitting chances that finally convinced Myers her time had come. After getting a little more time than usual during the final weekend of the regular season, she found herself in the starting lineup for an elimination game against Cal State Fullerton in regionals. One hit and two walks in that win earned her another start, and three hits in that game against LSU led to a move up the batting order.
The rest, as they say, is history.
"I really struggled mentally with that, just trying to calm myself down," Haro said of the mindset that turned her season around. "And [I had to tell myself] 'Don't think about the pressure; it's just the game I've been playing my whole life.'"