NW’s Akelaitis named TN/LVHN Softball Player of the Year
Bring on the gamesmanship and the trash talk. You’re not going to rattle this girl’s chains.
Time after time in big spots and during the customary chatter from opposing softball teams’ benches, she threw the out pitch from the circle or got the big hit at the plate.
Emily Akelaitis from Northwestern is the 2019 Times News/Lehigh Valley Health Network Softball Player of the Year.
After her father had introduced her to softball when she was a third grader, Akelaitis fell in love with the game. She later began to pitch for a travel team, the Bethlehem Outlaws, and honed her presence in the circle for several years until she took over the starting role during her sophomore season at Northwestern.
“I really like the leadership role I have when I pitch,” Akelaitis said. “It’s like I’m out in the real world leading people who look up to me. I love the pressure the position brings. I’m 100 percent go for it.”
Her “go for it” earned her four shutouts over 129 innings pitched with 122 strikeouts this season. She finished with a 16-5 record and an ERA of 2.16 along with two no-hitters.
“Emily really established herself as a dominant pitcher for us,” said Tigers head coach Josh Zimmerman. “She was at her best when we beat a good Southern Lehigh team on their field by a score of 11-1.”
Zimmerman explained that Akelaitis gets ahead in the count with her fastball and then she throws hitters off stride with what he calls an “extraordinary changeup.”
Akelaitis doesn’t overpower good hitters. She gets outs with excellent location and keeps her focus despite distractions that might affect her performance.
“When I’m (in the circle), I thrive against the noise from the other team’s bench. In Palmerton’s last home game this year, they were really loud whenever I was making a pitch. We ended up winning the game.
“Pitching is mostly mental for me, and the noise and the pressure of the game help keep me zoned in. I just love to compete.”
When she wasn’t throwing pitches from the circle, Akelaitis was smashing them from the plate.
Batting third in Northwestern’s lineup, she hit .554 with 20 extra base hits, seven home runs, and 31 RBIs.
“Emily is the complete player,” said Zimmerman, whose team made it to the District 4A championship game. “She’s worked very hard at her hitting and the results are in the numbers.”
Early in her high school career, Akelaitis was a dead pull hitter, but she was frustrated with swinging too early and hitting too many nubbers down the third base line.
“I spent hours of practice hitting off a tee that I’d place outside the plate so I could work on my right field swing,” she said
“This year she used the whole field and had ample power to both sides, plus she hit a few of her home runs over the right field fence,” added Zimmerman. “She takes what the pitchers give her and adjusts her swing based upon the location of the pitch.”
And go with the pitch she did when she smacked a walk-off home run against Hamburg for a 6-5 Tigers win early in the season.
As what happens with all good players, sometimes Akelaitis achieves less than what she expects from herself. Adversity then becomes a learning experience.
“I don’t bring a bad game home with me, “ she said. “My father and I might analyze my performance in the car ride back, but there’s no point in staying upset. You can’t go back and change what happened.”
Leadership from the circle was also her forte’ from the bench. Akelaitis embraced her role as captain of the Tigers.
“She kept an even keel that was a great example for our younger players,” said Zimmerman. “Emily was supportive and she preached that you have to have a very short term memory when something goes wrong.”
Committed to playing softball for Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia next year, Akelaitis will hold onto the memories of her experiences at Northwestern.
“It’s definitely been a heck of a ride,” she said. “I went from having to carry the water to the games as freshman to a disappointing junior year to this great season we just finished. Now I hope to maintain the relationships I have with my teammates.”
It’s no surprise that Emily Akelaitis aspires to become a trauma surgeon. She’s already proven she can handle pressure and “thrive against the noise.”