LYNN — Chrissy Gikas dug in at the plate with her 5-foot, 2-inch frame and stared down the Lynn English pitcher with a calm, yet intimidating focus and went to work.
The second batter of the game, the Danvers High senior captain fouled off pitch after pitch, showing an incredible display of patience and precision while trying to get on base with her slap-hit approach.
On the ninth pitch of the at-bat, Gikas put a ball into play and her bloop single landed between a trio of Lynn English players in short center. Then her instincts and quick feet took over. Before anyone blinked, she had stolen second base.
With every successive pitch, Gikas danced off the bag at second before swiftly taking third. On the next pitch, she scored the game’s first run on a base hit by slugging sophomore catcher Caitlin McBride .
She finished the afternoon, a 13-0 victory, with three hits, a walk, a double, four RBIs, four runs scored, and two stolen bases. But she really put on a show out at second base.
In the third inning, with teammate Kendall Meehan working on a perfect game, Gikas noted a pattern. After the English hitter had fouled off three pitches to the right, Gikas turned her head and yelled out to right field, “heads up, it’s coming to you!” She made a shift defensively before the hitter slapped a bouncing ball up the middle, seemingly for a hit.
But Gikas dove and made a spectacular back-handed grab before firing a throw to first just in time for the out.
“She’s a fantastic second baseman,” said nine-year Danvers coach Tara Petrocelli. “I’ve never seen a player with such soft hands in my entire life.”
Every time Gikas takes the field for the Falcons, off to a 7-0 start after Thursday’s 3-0 win over Beverly, she races sophomore shortstop Brittany Dougal to second base. They chuckle, bounce on the bag, and share a double high five before taking grounders from first baseman Devyn Downs.
“We started doing it her freshman year, because I could tell she was tense [in the field as a freshman], so I wanted to loosen her up so she could just play her game,” Gikas said of the ritual. “Now she’s out there playing incredibly with a lot of confidence for us.”
Later in the game, Dougal made a diving, backhanded grab of her own before firing across the diamond for the out to preserve the perfect game.
The rest of the Falcons follow the lead of Gikas and fellow captain Julia Saggese, the team’s only seniors.
Saggese, who will attend Merrimack College in the fall, starts in center, flanked by a freshman, Maddie Mucc i, in left and a sophomore, Tori Costa , in right.
“We just get together in the outfield right before the inning starts and just tell each other that we’re going to back each other up, know what we’re going to do, and remember we’ve got each others’ backs,” said Saggese.
That thought process is not limited to the outfield.
“I love watching Chrissy play because I know that she can get to any ball, she can get to any base, she makes very close plays and it just makes my job easier,” said Saggese.
Gikas added, “And I know if I miss a ball, she’s there to get it,” remembering a play earlier in the win over English in which Saggese made a diving catch on a ball that could have easily dropped in for a single.
And the two captains fully understand that their leadership extends beyond the field, which is why they have taken the lead on another initiative.
Every year the Danvers softball team designates one of its games for charity, with all of the proceeds from tickets and concessions going to a cause. Last year, the money was directed to help pay for treatment for the mother of a player who was battling cancer.
The Falcons usually work a water station at the Boston Marathon, most often at Mile 6. This year, with a game scheduled, they were not along the route. But when they learned of the bombings, it struck a nerve. Petrocelli works in law enforcement, and one of the soccer coaches at the high school was on the scene in Boston as a first responder.
“We usually do a charity game every year, but with this hitting so close to home, we thought this was the perfect thing to do,” said Gikas. “It’s such a great cause to play for, it makes you really want to go out there and play your best.”
The players also designed and made their own T-shirts and sold more than 200, with all the money directed to victims of the bombings.
“I want the kids to leave better than they were when they came in — it goes above and beyond softball,” said Petrocelli.
The Wilmington High softball team has stepped forward too, in memory of slain MIT officer Sean Collier , a town native. And the daughter of head coach Audrey Cabral-Pini , Melody, is a close friend of Collier’s sister, Jennifer Collier Lemmerman , both Wilmington High class of 2000.
On Wednesday, with the Wildcats scheduled to play Melrose — the same day that Collier was laid to rest — Wilmington captain Jackie Kennedy made Boston Marathon ribbon decals to be worn on all the players’ helmets. The team’s three pitchers — Megan Howland , Heather Benson , and Jillian Williams — made posters that will be on display for every game the rest of the season, in addition to making black arm bands, inscribed with Collier’s name. They have dedicated their season to Collier.
“There is no professional display but rather simple, homemade tokens,” said Cabral-Pini. “They met as a team and decided what they wanted to do and I am so proud of them.”
Wilmington (5-1) rallied for a 6-5 win over Melrose.
“We have played well in the early going due to team chemistry,” said Cabral-Pini. The players are “constantly pulling for one another, and someone has stepped up every game.”
Two good beginnings
Wakefield (7-1) and Peabody (5-1) are off to to terrific starts, thanks in large part to their offensive prowess. Through six games, Peabody is averaging 10 runs per game. Wakefield is close behind (with 70 runs scored in its first eight games).