South Charlotte

Providence's shortstop knows how to get on base

As soon as the ball came off the bat, Providence High shortstop Elena Covert started moving to her right.

After several quick strides, she went down and backhanded the ball with her glove. She didn't make the throw to first base and, even if she had, the Weddington runner probably would have been safe.

That's not the point, Providence softball coach John Reid said.

Many players never would have gotten to the ball Covert snagged late in a 2-1 loss to Weddington last week.

"You see a play where she didn't make it - well, that's because she covered 30 feet before she got the ball and no one else would even have it," said Reid, in his second year coaching at Providence. "Yeah, we didn't get the out there, but with anybody else, the ball is in the outfield."

That quickness and ability to cover the field is one of the many reasons the Providence senior is a two-time N.C. Softball Coaches Association all-state selection and why she's signed to play in college at UNC Chapel Hill.

Another is her work ethic.

Reid said he'll see Covert, 17, working on her hitting and fielding on the weekends when he comes to work on the field. If she's not there, Reid might see her out on a run.

"She works harder than you expect," said Reid. "I don't think it's possible for a coach to expect more than she can give."

Covert started playing softball when she was 5 years old and has been playing on travel and all-star teams since she was in elementary school. Until this year, she also played basketball for Providence; this year she decided to focus on softball to get ready for college.

Covert said she's a competitive person, and the thought of playing in college is what has kept her working so hard.

"A lot of it's just my competitive nature," she said. "I don't want to just be someone who just sits on the bench the whole time, I want to go in there and be strong and fight for a starting position right away."

In five games this year, Covert is batting .684 from the leadoff position. A natural right-hander, Covert used to be a switch hitter but now strictly hits left-handed so she can bunt and be a slap hitter, getting on base with her speed from the right side of the plate. She's also stolen six bases this year.

Reid said Covert is a perfect leadoff hitter because of her ability to get on base. In three scrimmages one weekend before the season, Covert was 3-for-3 and had four walks, getting on base in all seven at-bats.

Covert is working on adding power to her hitting repertoire. She is only 5-foot-5, but Reid said opposing teams know not to underestimate her when she comes to the plate.

"She can hit it on the infield and lay down a perfect bunt, but she can also hit it to the fence, so if you play in too close you can easily get burned," said Reid.

Reid also said Covert is one of the strongest and most accurate throwers on the team, with a quick, fluid motion picking up ground balls and throwing.

The Panthers have struggled early this season, losing their first four games before beating Rocky River 16-0 last week in the first conference game of the season. Covert wanted a better start to the season but said she still thinks Providence High can finish strong this year.

"We haven't gotten off to a very good start, but I feel like we've got more talent and more depth than last year," said Covert. "I'm just hoping that we can go in and be really strong in conference. I feel like we can win conference."

Covert committed to North Carolina in January of her junior year. It's been her dream school.

"I feel like it's a really good school academically and there are good sports programs, and it's a good distance (from Charlotte)," said Covert, who is a member of Providence's National Honor Society. "I just feel like it's a good fit."

Reid knows it will be hard to replace Covert next year, but he looks forward to watching her play in Chapel Hill. The way he has seen her work, Reid said, he has no doubt she will play in college.

"I don't know what role she'll play up there, but I feel like she'll find her way into the lineup," he said. "Maybe it won't be the first year, but she's not the type to sit back."