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Adjustments at the Plate Have Turned Redbank Valley Junior Paytin Polka Into a Feared Hitter for Young Bulldogs

NEW BETHLEHEM, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Paytin Polka was digging into the box, wringing her hands tightly around the handle of the bat and taking swing after swing.

With poor results.

The junior on the Redbank Valley softball team was frustrated and searching for answers.

“At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t making any contact,” Polka said. “I was striking out and was like, ‘What’s going on?’”

Then at the urging of assistant coach Ryan Sherry, Polka made a couple of slight adjustments.

Suddenly, she was ripping the ball like she knew she could.

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

“He really helped me a lot,” Polka said of Sherry. “He knew what he was talking about, even though sometimes I didn’t want to listen.”

Polka’s problems were two-fold. She wasn’t following the pitch all the way through the zone and she was chopping down on her swing. The two issues colluded to make barreling up the softball very difficult.

“I have a more upward swing now,” Polka said. “And I’m really watching the ball.”

With those issues fixed, Polka has gone on a tear.

She had a monster game against A-C Valley not long after making those two tweaks, going 3-for-4 with a pair of doubles and four RBIs in a win over the Falcons.

By far the biggest game of her career came a few weeks later against Union when she hit a pair of home runs and drove in seven in a victory over the Damsels.

All was right with Polka again.

(Paytin Polka waits for a pitch against Clarion earlier this season/photo by Madison McFarland)

She’s batting .407 with two homers, four doubles and 16 RBIs this season for the young Bulldogs.

“All I needed was that one good game, that one good hit,” Polka said, “I started to realize what I could do.”

Redbank Valley coach Lee Miller always knew what Polka could do. He was just waiting for that breakout game from Polka and he got it.

Miller also knew what kind of leadership skills Polka possessed and named her one of the team captains.

“We challenged her at the beginning of the season as being one of the leaders,” Miller said. “We told her she has to step up her game and she did.”

Redbank Valley came into the season with the monumental task of replacing 10 seniors. Few on this year’s roster had any varsity experience before the first pitch of the campaign against Karns City back in early April.

There are typically three freshmen and two sophomores in the starting lineup each day.

The Bulldogs have certainly gone through some growing pains as the 5-14 record indicates, but Redbank has played better as the season has progressed.

“No matter how the game goes, I’m always really proud of the team,” Polka said. “I mean, they’re all really young and they push through everything. I think if we would have had a little bit more experience we would have won a few more games and made it to the playoffs.”

Polka has taken her role as team leader seriously. She’s also taken a gentler approach with the young players.

“When I was younger, I had a problem with the older girls — they never held back what they thought about you,” Polka said, smiling. “I’ve always made sure to never let the girls know if I was upset, or didn’t like the way they play. I’d rather help them than yell at them. I’m really proud of the younger girls and how they’ve played at their age.”

Polka is also learning.

As a catcher, she’s still working on her defense behind the plate, especially blocking pitches in the dirt. She’s come a long way in that area as well.

She’s been catching for years and handles pitchers well.

Redbank Valley freshman pitcher Mackenzie Foringer and Polka go way back. In fact, Polka caught Foringer’s first game several seasons ago in youth league.

“She was probably 13 when I first caught for her and,” Polka pauses to flash a grin, “I didn’t see a bright future for her. After the first couple of pitches, I shook my head.

“She’s improved so much,” Polka added. “She’s improved more than anybody. She’s worked her rear end off and I’m really proud of her. I’m so excited she’s on our team.”

Polka is also excited about the future next spring with Redbank.

“I’ve definitely thought about next year,” Polka said. “I think we’re going to make the playoffs. It’s just a matter of how we use our talent and if we play to our potential. I really think we can make it far.”

Polka thinks the same of her softball career after high school.

She has long dreamt of playing softball at the next level and she’s planning on taking an interesting path there.

“One of my biggest plans was going to college and playing softball, but I’ve changed my mind,” Polka said. “I’m going to the Army and playing softball for them. I’m really excited about softball again.”

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Redbank Valley, Keystone, and Union/A-C Valley sports coverage on Explore and is brought to you by Heeter Lumber.

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