Windham pitcher Brittany Knight admits she doesn't make life for catcher Madison Kilgore easy behind the plate.
The sophomore has a tendency to throw into the dirt, forcing her junior battery mate to turn into a hockey goalie trying to keep the ball from getting by her.
"Sometimes, I'm not exactly the best pitcher," Knight said. "I don't exactly hit my spots. A lot of times, I'll throw the ball low in the dirt, and (Kilgore) does a great job blocking. Very rarely does she give up a passed ball, and honestly, with the way I pitch sometimes, that's pretty good."
Kilgore didn't always have that ability, and it's a good thing for the 16-6 Bombers, who are appearing in a Division IV regional semifinal game for the first time since 2009 when they play Cuyahoga Heights today, that she has.
The junior catcher struggled with the low pitches and passed balls last season, which prompted Windham to focus on that aspect of her game heading into this season. Assistant coach Danny Burns' son played for Windham and at the collegiate level, and the coaching staff asked him for some advice to help Kilgore. He suggested drills that involved taking a few bumps.
"We probably bruised her up so much that human services would probably be involved if you saw all the bruises along the kid," Burns said. "She worked hard in practice blocking balls, learning what to do as far as not worrying about just catching the ball, but you have to block the ball, also."
Not that Kilgore has an issue with the physical nature of being behind the plate.
"I'm used to getting bruises," Kilgore said. "That's just a part of the game."
To go along with the physical nature of the game, both Knight and Burns said Kilgore has grown on the mental side.
Kilgore started calling games from catcher for the first time last year, and it took some time for her to learn what pitches to suggest depending on the batter and the situation. This season, Knight hasn't disagreed too often with Kilgore's decisions.
"When we first got to high school, she didn't know how I liked to call my pitches that much, but she learned very quickly," Knight said. "Now, we work together really well. She knows what I want to throw in certain counts to certain batters. I do still shake her off sometimes if I'm not as confident with the pitch, but she's improved so much and she really does a great job."
Kilgore also plays a significant role in the batting order on a team that likes to play small ball at the top of the lineup to take advantage of lead-off batter Jessica Isler's speed.
Kilgore is Windham's cleanup batter and has a runner in scoring many times when she steps to the plate, putting her in high-pressure situations. The junior has done well so far this season, with her batting average above .400 and accruing at least 20 RBIs.
"Last year, she had a little slump in the middle of the year where she didn't hit the ball and then slowed down at tournament time," Burns said. "This year, she's hit the ball consistently all year long."
Now, Kilgore hopes to be a major part of the Bombers' attempt to advance to a regional final when they face off with Cuyahoga Heights (18-3) at the Diamond at Dix in Kent. This Windham team has no experience playing in the regional tournament, while the Redskins advanced to the same round last year before losing to Mathews, 1-0.
The Bombers are trying to not let their inexperience hamper them or their spirits.
"We're really hoping we'll win," Kilgore said.