The Chris Napora who rung up a .382 batting average and .764 slugging percentage while serving as Glen Burnie's designated hitter last spring no longer exists.
This year, she's even better. And for so many reasons.
For one thing, she earned the starting job at third base by working diligently on her fielding. And she improved her quickness by running on the track, exercising and lifting weights almost immediately after last season ended, losing around seven pounds in the process.
She also concentrated on lowering her strikeouts by not always swinging for the fences, even though her power had resulted in four doubles, four triples, three home runs and 20 RBIs, as well as All-County honors.
Why the need to work on her game, rather than resting on her laurels?
"I wanted to be better," she said last week, after going 7-for-10 with a triple and home run during a three-game stretch against ranked teams. "I wanted to play the field really bad and I wanted to hit better. I had so many strikeouts in the beginning of the year."
Her speed has improved so much that coach Bob Broccolino didn't hesitate waving her around third against Chesapeake last week after she had launched a ball into deep left-center field. She had taken a different hitting approach in last Monday's win over North County, lining three singles and scoring on a delayed double-steal. And she showed nice patience at the plate Friday against Old Mill by waiting on an off-speed pitch before pulling it down the left-field line for her team-leading third triple.
"I still want to hit home runs," she said, "but my dad told me to think singles and the home runs will come. I've just been trying to hit the ball."
Napora 17, didn't play in high school until her sophomore year, which was spent on the junior varsity. She was "kind of scared," as a freshman, she said. but was persuaded by her father, Matt, to try out the following spring.
She made the varsity as a junior, but with Mandy Farlow entrenched at first base and with a logjam at third -- three different Gophers spent time there -- her glove collected dust instead of ground balls.
"I just wanted a chance," said Napora, who will play for the Outlaws this summer, then Anne Arundel Community College next spring.
Going into yesterday's game at Northeast, she was leading the top-ranked Gophers in hitting (.500), and also had four RBIs. But most impressive has been her fielding.
Displaying soft hands, good range and a strong throwing arm despite tendinitis in her right shoulder, she has been both steady and spectacular at third. Last week alone, she grabbed a line drive and doubled a runner off first, knocked down a hard bouncer and flipped behind her to shortstop Samantha Miller covering third for a crucial forceout, saved a run by stretching to catch a throw from close range that was veering into foul territory, and dived to smother a sharp grounder that was hugging the line, then threw to first from her knees for the out.
"Through sheer determination and hard work, she's made herself a great ballplayer," Broccolino said. "In her JV year, she was very unsure of herself, but you could see the improvement in her hitting as the year went on. But with her fielding, she was slow to react. It improved last year, but she was still rough around the edges.
"She was never real happy or comfortable as a DH, but she did it because she's a real team player."
Napora still gets nervous before every game -- "even worse than last year; it's horrible," she said -- but she also can display a good sense of humor.
During Friday's 10-3 victory over Old Mill, she fell between third and home and wound up face-down in the dirt before eventually scoring.
"Susan [Kroedel] asked me if I tripped," she said to some parents sitting in the bleachers. "I told her, 'No, I just wanted to lay down for a while.' "
That was one of the few times Napora had rested since last season.