March 17, 2015
By Brad Muller | More Features
Don't feel bad for Alaynie Page when you hear boos coming out of the South Carolina dugout as she steps up to the plate. For the junior leftfielder, who carries the childhood nickname "Boo," it's just a little bit of fun her teammates are having for the person who is normally the jokester on the team. However, Page's offensive numbers through the first half of the 2015 are no laughing matter.
"I knew coming in here that I wanted to be a leader," Page said. "I wanted to put myself on the field and lead by example. I don't think it has changed since I started doing well. I'm not going to be perfect every game, and I won't have a hit every game, but if I can barrel-up a ball and get my teammates going and excited about a pitcher they're getting ready to face, then that's what I want to do."
The Boiling Springs, South Carolina, native began her career with the Gamecocks with a respectable freshman season in which she batted .250, belted seven home runs, notched 36 RBI, and stole 15 bases. The production dropped off as a sophomore year when she slumped to a .208 average with two home runs and 12 RBI. Page became motivated to turn things around in 2015 and opened the season on a 14 game hitting streak. She is currently batting .408 with a team-leading 11 home runs, which is one shy of matching the school single season record, and 31 RBI as South Carolina's leadoff hitter.
"Alaynie has come back with a different mentality," said head coach Beverly Smith. "She did not like the year she had last year, and she went out and got mentally prepared and re-focused for this season. I think it was one of those situations where you realize you don't get time back. She was in and out of left field last year, and she told me in her year-end meeting last year that left field is her spot and she didn't want to lose it. She worked hard over the summer. She knows how good she can be, and she put her time and energy into that."
"I'm being really aggressive with my at bats," Page said. "I'm just attacking the good pitches that I see early. The difference between good players and great players in our conference is mentality. There's a fine line between being confident and being cocky. You have to have confidence in yourself so that when you get in a slump or you tail off, you can find a way to get it back. As a hitter you have to think that you're just as good as the pitcher. The way I look at it is that she is a good pitcher, but she better throw her best stuff to get me out."
I just want to be the best player I can be, and I know I haven't done that yet. So I'm just trying to show people that I can do it. We want to host a regional and we want to make it to the College World Series.
After a solid fall exhibition season, Smith and her staff were confident that Page could step in to be the leadoff hitter, and the power she has shown has been a nice surprise.
"She has always had a beautiful swing," Smith said. "I think of her as a kid who can hit the ball hard, have a high on-base percentage and hit for a good average. She is just locked-in right now. I just want her to keep hitting the ball hard. You look at her RBI numbers and you think, why isn't she hitting in the three-hole? Our mentality is that she's only going to lead-off one time. She has really been the spark for us, and the bottom of our order has done a nice job turning the lineup over so she can get some RBIs."
This was evident in last Wednesday's 2-1 victory over Western Kentucky, when the ninth hitter in the South Carolina lineup, Ansley Ard, drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the seventh, and Page stroked the game-winning RBI triple moments later. She also thrilled the fans at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field with an inside-the-park home run earlier this year against the College of Charleston, and stroked two home runs in a win against #15 Tennessee last Friday.
"If you're the first batter, you're going to get the most at bats in the game," Smith said. "So that's where we are going with her. In the fall, we talked to her about being the leadoff hitter, and it's amazing what you can do when you get all of your energies and focus moving in the right direction."
Despite the frequent extra base hits, Page does not see herself as a power hitter.
"I consider myself as someone who's going to put the barrel on the ball, and if it works out to be home run then that's great," Page said.
Off the field, Smith describes Page, who enjoys fishing in her spare time, as someone who would be very amusing to have a microphone attached.
"She's very loose and very funny," Smith said. "She keeps things in the locker room very light. She's very country. Boo likes to have a good time, but when it's time to play ball, she is all about the game and is focused."
"I'm really goofy," Page added. "I am loud. My voice carries. I like to lighten things up and have fun."
Circling the bases has been fun this year, and Page has some fun with her teammates by performing "the whip" dance move when she touches home plate after a home run. With all of the time softball student-athletes spend with each other, especially on long bus trips, Page can't help but draw inspiration from her teammates.
"Six hour bus rides just really bring everything out of you," Page said. "We love each other as a team and just goof off. We pick on each other and make jokes. It does bring you closer. We have that good chemistry. We're together a lot off the field. They go through the grind with me every day. Being able to look to your left and right, and knowing that they have your back is something that gets me going. South Carolina has such a rich history in softball, so it's pride thing."
As the Gamecocks work through the 2015 season, Page hopes she can help the team reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year, but she's not putting pressure on herself by worrying about her own statistics.
"Softball is a game of failure," Page said. "You have to realize if you get it right four out of ten times, you're an All-American. I love that. It shows that you don't have to be perfect all of the time. I just want to be the best player I can be, and I know I haven't done that yet. So I'm just trying to show people that I can do it. We want to host a regional and we want to make it to the College World Series. We have the best talent that we've had since I've been here."
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