A day before her softball doubleheader Wednesday, Saint Francis University slugger Hayley Norton said the thought of her next home run was stuck in the back of her mind.
The Spring Grove High School graduate tied the program and Northeast Conference record for career home runs against Ohio last Friday when she slugged her seventh long ball of the season and the 48th of her career.
“I have been thinking about it a little bit when I go up to the plate,” Norton said. “I need to remind myself that the home run is going to come.”
It did come.
Norton smashed her record-breaking 49th career home run Wednesday in a 12-8 Flash win over George Mason. She also hit her 50th career long ball in the second game of the doubleheader Wednesday.
“I knew going into the season I had a good chance of breaking it,” Norton said. “I like hitting home runs. They’re really fun.”
Other broken records: The home run record isn’t the only one the senior outfielder has broken, or will break, this season.
She broke the program’s record for hits earlier this season. The previous record was 202, and Norton had 212 hits entering Thursday.
She’s also four RBIs away from the school’s record of 189, and with more than 20 games remaining on the Flash schedule, she will likely break that mark, too.
“I never expected I’d get close to those records,” Norton said. “It’s a great feeling. I know it will be cool in the future to look back at what I did in college.”
Career year: Norton is enjoying a career year as a senior, which is hard to imagine after the numbers she put up in her first three years.
Norton is slashing .418/.478/.755 with nine home runs, 32 RBIs and 26 runs scored.
Norton said her success is attributed to her feeling “more like myself.” The Flash hired a new coach this season in Jessica O’Donnell, who Norton said better aligns with her hitting philosophy.
Norton said Jennifer Patrick-Swift, who was head coach for Norton’s first three seasons before taking a job to lead North Carolina State this season, was adamant about the new air ball revolution in hitting, with launch angle a focus for each hitter. Norton, who hit for power in high school, considers herself an all-around hitter, not just a home-run hitter.
“The home-run mindset worked to an extent, but I always was taught that home runs were accidents and I was hitting for line drives. “When (O’Donnell) came in, she said we weren’t going to do that anymore and that we were going to hit for average, which is what I believe in.”
Back to her old swing: She said the live-by-the-home-run, die-by-the-home-run mentality started to hurt her success as a sophomore and junior. After a stellar freshman season, in which she slugged .672 with 15 homers and 56 RBIs, Norton slugged under .600 and got on base under a .400 clip in each of the next two seasons. Those numbers are still excellent, though Norton knew should could perform better.
“When I came in my freshman year, they said I had the perfect swing in their minds. When you put it next to how they were actually teaching, I wasn’t doing it that way, but they said I was because I was successful,” Norton said. “… I hit a slump my sophomore year, and that’s when the coaches would change certain aspects of my swing. It wasn’t working for me. I still did OK, but not as good as my freshman season.”
Now, Norton said she’s back to her “old swing,” which is why she’s having a breakout season, even before the Flash face weaker competition in conference play.
“I feel less pressure,” she said. “I’m not thinking about bat tipping or working behind the ball. Now it’s, just see ball hit ball.”
While her power numbers have increased, she’s also getting on base 10 percent more often and has struck out only six times in 30 games, which is significantly less than in her first three seasons when she struck out more than 30 times a season on average.
“I had a lot of success before, but I struck out a lot. I was pulling my head off the ball and swinging at pitches I wouldn’t normally swing at. Now, I’m more selective, but I am focusing on line drives, and a lot of them are going out still.”
Enjoying senior season: Norton, who is majoring in business management with a minor in sports management, said she is trying to focus on the remaining games of softball she has left.
“It’s going to come to an end, and I just really want to be present with softball, because I don’t want it to end,” she said.
The Flash have gone undefeated in NEC play each of the last two seasons, and Norton hopes her career ends with a third straight conference title. The Flash stand at 11-19 entering conference play.
“I’ve been playing this game for so long, and it’ll be a shock when it ends. I reminded myself that I want to work as hard as I can, and I don’t want to have any regrets.”
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com.