By PAUL HINES
---- — MT. VERNON – Haley Lockhart spent months rehabilitating her knee.
About two weeks ago, the Mt. Vernon senior was medically cleared to participate in sports after suffering a torn ACL during basketball season.
The same day she took batting practice on the Mt. Vernon softball diamond after a Lady Rams loss to Herrin. The next day Mt. Vernon coach Lance Boldt inserted her in the lineup.
“It feels really good because most people didn’t expect me to come back so quick,” Lockhart said. “So I like to prove people wrong. But just generally, it feels amazing to get back because I missed basketball.”
She hasn’t stopped slugging the ball since her return.
Lockhart has played four games for Mt. Vernon. During those games, she’s racked up 10 hits and driven in 10 runs to go with her .714 batting average. The average represents a small sample size of 14 at-bats, but the RBI total is already tied for fourth on the team.
“I thought I would struggle because I hadn’t swung a bat in about a year,” Lockhart said. “I figured it would take me a week full of games to actually get back, but I was surprised myself.”
The influx of Lockhart’s offense has coincided with a three-game winning streak for the Lady Rams. Mt. Vernon knocked off Cahokia, Benton and Belleville Althoff in succession. Lockhart exploded for four hits and six RBI against Althoff in her team’s most recent victory.
Lockhart, who is committed to play basketball at Lincoln Land College next season, said her knee still feels sore at times.
“But it doesn’t really hurt to where I can’t play,” she said.
The addition of Lockhart in the middle of the Lady Rams’ order gives Boldt an additional power hitter he can pair with Page Clinton and Hannah Wright along with the consistent hitting of Summer Hobson. Clinton, Wright and Hobson are all batting more than .340 this season.
“Hannah Wright’s done a great job and Lauren (Wilson) and Summer Hobson, but they’ve had a lot of pressure on them to drive in these runs,” Boldt said. “Getting Haley in there is somebody that’s going to put the bat on the ball and make things happen and hit it hard. (It) just takes that pressure off.”
Initially, Boldt limited Lockhart to only hitting, but her role quickly expanded to include defense. She’s been a three-year starter for the softball team and last season was the squad’s shortstop. Clinton has moved from her traditional catcher spot to shortstop after a midseason adjustment, and Lockhart has alternated between first and second base since her return, depending on the Mt. Vernon pitcher.
The Lady Rams’ season is winding down. The team has a full slate of games scheduled next week before the start of postseason play. Mt. Vernon enters the Herrin regional as the No. 4 seed and face top-seeded Carbondale.
“Offensively, you can see it,” Boldt said. “We’re just scoring more runs. I’m just so happy for her to have this chance to play her senior year. I just expect us these last few games to keep doing what we’re doing. We’re scoring six, seven, eight runs a game.”
Lockhart and her teammates play Belleville East on Monday after a game at Centralia scheduled for today was canceled.
Strong Start 4 games .714 batting average 10 hits 10 RBI 5 runs scored