IN THE DUGOUT: For Mid Valley's Runco, 43 home runs -- and just two strikeouts
Not the 43 career home runs. Anyone who's seen the ball jump off the bat of Mid Valley's Maranda Runco knows she's got pop.
It's what she doesn't have that turns heads.
Strikeouts. There've been two in 252 career plate appearances.
"To not have an off day, wow, it's unbelievable," said Holy Cross grad and Misericordia University sophomore Erin McGee, who has rare perspective on the right-handed pitching, left-handed hitting Runco, the Class 3A player of the year in 2021 and two-time first team all-state performer.
McGee's one of the two pitchers who've fanned Runco in her more-impressive-by-the-day high school career. The other was Riverside's Lexi Kostoff last month.
"I always have the same mindset at the plate: yes, yes, yes until it's a no," Runco said. "Every at-bat it's the same. I feel like for me as a pitcher, I see the spin on the ball coming in and it's easier to piece together what pitch is coming at me."
May 3, 2021: A swinging strike three that didn't really seem like a big deal until the end of Runco's sophomore season when the final numbers were in.
"I actually didn't know until the end of the year," McGee said. "I think she got player of the year or state player of the year and it said she was only struck out once.
"I said, 'Oh, that was me.' "
Runco's 19 homers, 21 pitching victories and a 1.37 ERA took Mid Valley to the state final. That season, she intentionally walked 29 times, twice with the bases loaded.
That strikeout, though, still stands out.
"I threw an outside two-seam fastball and she didn't swing, and it surprised me because she always swings at the first pitch," McGee said. "Then I threw an inside two-seam fastball and she fouled it off. Then I threw a changeup to strike her out."
She rattles it off as if it happened two minutes, not two years, ago. One strikeout in a career that's spanned years from Miss-E to travel ball to high school, and now college, and McGee has memories like that?
"Just the fact that I remember a game from two years ago, among the hundreds of games I've pitched, among the hundreds of strikeouts, that I remember that one really speaks highly of Maranda as a player," McGee said. "Honestly, I loved playing against her and better players like that.
"I know how good she is and I thought it brought my game up, too."
April 19, 2023: Kostoff hadn't won a lot of the battles with Runco, but this time, she did. There's no reveling in the moment, just respect in her words.
"Generally, I pitch around her because she's had success against me," Kostoff said. "But this game I wanted to challenge myself. I kept the ball as far away as I could in the zone and I got ahead in the count. So I went farther outside and she chased it."
Riverside head coach Katie Fox didn't know the specifics, but knew getting Runco on strikes was a huge deal.
"I remember the moment. It was a big moment," Fox said. "It is because she's such a hard hitter to get out. When the ball stays in the park it's a win. I think it's a big win for Lexi, too, because she's given up the long ball to her, too.
"There are a lot of power hitters who are all or nothing, but she hits all the time."
Her career batting average of .700 (119 for 170 in 62 games), with 59 of hits for extra bases, validate that.
Kostoff put her strikeout it in context.
"It felt great, but she is still the best hitter I have ever faced," Kostoff said. "Villanova is lucky to be getting her."
And the rest of the league will be glad to see her head to the Big East and Philadelphia's Main Line.
"I have never seen anything like it or heard anything like it," Mid Valley head coach Mike Piercy said. "She just doesn't strike out and you know, on top of that, almost every ball she hits is barreled up, which makes it even more incredible.
"Not only does she not strike out, but even her outs generally are hard-hit balls."
Coaches throughout the Lackawanna League, and beyond, have been searching for a way just to get her out, let alone strike her out.
"We see all different approaches," Piercy said. "Whether they say we're going to come inside, we're going to go outside. We're going to go up in the (strike) zone, we're going to shift three infielders to one side. They play the infielders on the outfield grass, enticing a bunt, I would say.
"It's an interesting cat-and-mouse game to see all the different looks people give her."
Except the cat always seems to win. Fourteen of her 29 hits this season are homers, and she's just over her career average at .707.
"I've never seen a kid do what she does," Piercy said. "High school baseball, college baseball, people I've seen and played against, so many coaches tell me the same thing. They've never seen anything like this."
The key, it turns out, won't be found in any complex analytic. More like hard work, and plenty of it.
"During the off days, offseason, every day, I'm hitting off a machine or a tee," Runco said. "Freshman year was the COVID year, so we didn't have a season. Every day, me and my dad would go outside and get ready for next year.
"I have a batting cage in the backyard and I can pitch out there, too. Just reps upon reps."
It shows in her pitching numbers, too, almost as jarring with a 16-1 mark and a 0.33 ERA.
She also can handle everything from the 45-mph soft-tosser to the 60-plus-mph Division I prospects.
"Her timing could be off in the beginning of an at-bat, but by the time she sees a couple pitches, she locks herself back in," Piercy said. "That's the most impressive thing.
"We joke with her, 'Hey, remember that time you struck out. We have fun with her about it, but it's incredible.
"I don't think we'll see anything like this again."
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