Patience Pays Off For Falcons' Trzcinski
Courtesy of Rich Garven and the Telegram & Gazette
The letters scribbled in black marker on the back of Leigh Trzcinski's right hand spelled "Patience."
That was the Fitchburg State softball team's theme of the day before a doubleheader last week as selected by Lauren Donell, a sophomore from Ayer. Coming up with a game-day mantra is something of a team tradition, one passed from player to player over the course of a season.
The idea is to provide individual inspiration and collective encouragement before taking the field. The Falcons have been successful in that regard, even as the losses have mounted.
Patience, then, is a trait that's going to be in continued demand in the coming weeks.
"There's progress being made," Trzcinski, a junior shortstop, said last week on a glorious early spring day while seated outside the school's bustling Recreation Center. "We've had our moments, we just need to have more of those moments."
The young Falcons - 11 of the 15 players are freshmen or sophomores - take a six-game losing streak into today's twinbill against Plymouth State, one that has left them with a 3-13 record. It hasn't helped that, due to a scheduling quirk, today's games will be just their third and fourth of the season at home.
This is familiar territory for Trzcinski, a Worcester native who competed in three sports at South High before graduating in 2006. She was the only girl on the cross-country team as a senior and also played basketball and softball for the success-starved Colonels.
South only won about a dozen softball games during Trzcinski's tenure, none of which occurred during her freshman year. But she twice led the Inter-High in batting with a high-water mark of .568 as a senior.
Needless to say, college coaches weren't flocking to Apricot Street in search of this diamond in the rough.
"I really had to put myself out there for teams to see," Trzcinski said.
That included playing for a travel team in the summer, one coached by Robert Foley, who just happens to be director of the Fitchburg State library, and attending a recruiting camp at Devens. Trzcinski drummed up interest from coaches at AIC, Bay Path and Springfield before settling on Fitchburg State due to its attractive blend of academics, athletics and close-but-not-too-close proximity to home.
It's a decision the Falcons couldn't be happier with.
"She's a junior captain, so that tells you what the team thinks of her," said coach Frank Steffanides, who's in his second season at FSC. "She's the resident team leader, someone who is looked up to by everybody, including the seniors. She's a multi-faceted young lady and really impresses me every day. She's a pleasure to coach and a hard worker."
Trzcinski hasn't missed a game in college and has elevated her game each year. She batted just .235 as a Falcon frosh before checking in at .370 last season, which saw FSC go 12-21 but just miss out on the MASCAC playoffs with a 7-7 record in conference play.
The upward trend has continued this spring, and in skyrocketing fashion.
Trzcinski is currently hitting a robust .529. That's one of numerous categories she leads the team in, including runs (17), doubles (9), triples (2), RBIs (14), slugging percentage (.784) and on-base percentage (.564).
"Ever since last year I've been seeing the ball better," said Trzcinski, attributing her blistering batting to the teaching and tinkering of assistant coach Pam Shifrin, the former North Middlesex standout who is in her second season with the Falcons.
The hits have not only come with regularity, they have often come when it matters most. Trzcinski, who has only struck out four times in 51 at-bats, is 10 for 20 with runners in scoring position (.500) and 5 for 8 (.625) with runners on third and less than two outs.
"If we had nine of her we'd be fine," Steffanides said. "But we'll take one."
The defensive transition from first base to shortstop that began late last season continues at a less torrid pace as Trzcinski freely admits. Her 12 errors lead the team, but that hasn't kept this team leader from remaining upbeat.
"I think the more versatility we have, the better," said Trzcinski, who also has played a bit of second base for the Falcons. "It's always good to learn more than one position because it makes the team better."
Off the field, things have never been better for this outgoing and well-rounded collegian.
A communications major with a keen interest in graphic design, Trzcinski works in the school library and for the athletic department while giving campus tours for prospective students and their parents. She's also a member of the Student Advisory Athletic Committee and 1 in 10 and Friends, the college's gay-straight alliance.
"I'm just on top of everything right now," a happy and humble Trzcinski said. "It's all balancing out and coming together."
And, with a little patience, that may soon include a lot more wins for the Falcons.