Howard Hawk Naotala Leads Nation in JUCO Homers
What wears red and black, leads the nation in home runs and can strike out three opposing batters in a row? If you are a fan of Howard College softball, you would know the answer is Olive Naotala.
Naotala, a sophomore at Howard College is leading the nation (yes, the nation), in National Junior College Athletic Association play with 26 dingers.
Three of them were hit Wednesday during a doubleheader at Foundation Field against Frank Phillips College. Naotala also produced nine RBIs on the day bringing her total for the season to 74 — also on the nation’s leaderboard.
One would think it would be difficult to stand out as a power hitter on a team that has belted more than 60 home runs this season. But not for Naotala, who plays middle infield and also pitches from time to time.
She also ranks in the nation’s top 10 in total bases, runs batted in, total hits, runs scored, slugging percentage and batting average.
When asked how she transformed from the good player she was last year to the offensive cornerstone she has become this season, Naotala said it was a result of simple adjustments.
“I am definitely playing differently than I did last year,” Naotala explained. “I came into the game with a new mentality. I just try to stay focused. They know who I am and how I play now.”
Knowing who she is has forced opposing defenses to try to avoid being victimized by Naotala at the plate. She is routinely walked, which she says can affect her rythym at the plate.
“It’s frustrating when I get walked over and over,” Naotala said. “I have to be patient. When they pitch to me, I wait for that one miss and I try to take it.”
Kelly Raines, head softball coach for HC, believes Naotala is one of the best to ever don the Hawk uniform.
“(Naotala) has had a great two years for Howard,” Raines said. “I think she is one of the best to ever play here. She holds all the major batting records I know of — home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage. She’s a difference maker. When she is hitting well, we always have a chance to win.”
Naotala will be taking her skills elsewhere next season, as she has signed on with Texas Tech University in Lubbock to play on its softball team.
In addition to having a stellar season on her own, the Hawks boast a conference record of 16-2 and are in the hunt for a conference championship.
Howard College is currently in first place, but rival Odessa College has a similar record, 14-2, and will be the Hawk’s opponents in the final four games of the regular season. That series would have implications regarding whether the Hawks are the top seed or second seed from the Western Junior College Athletic Conference going into regional play.
As long as Naotala’s bat stays hot, Raines is confident HC could make a splash in the postseason.
“You don’t get lucky and hit 26 home runs in a season. She is the real deal,” Raines added.
by Brian McCormack