Harford Tech first baseman Kaela Mason was a sophomore on a senior-laden Cobras softball team last season. But despite her underclassman status, Mason proved to be an effective leader.
During the Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference championship game against heavily favored C. Milton Wright, Mason gathered her teammates together between innings and urged them to keep battling after the Mustangs had taken an early two-run lead.
She then backed up her words with action, lining the first pitch after play resumed for a triple. An inning later, she hit a two-run triple that proved to be the game-winning hit in Harford Tech's 3-2 upset.
"It just struck a nerve with the girls, and it was great to see," Harford Tech coach Fred Mongan said.
Mason, a junior and three-year starter, is coming off a fantastic season in which she hit .618 and helped the Cobras finish a school-record 14-4 and win the program's first softball championship.
The cleanup hitter had seven homers, six triples, three doubles and 34 RBIs last spring. This season, Mason picked up where she left off, batting .500 (4-for-8) as Harford Tech split its first four games. In last week's 5-2 win over Fallston, her two-run double put the Cobras ahead to stay.
Beyond her dazzling statistics, it is Mason's leadership and work ethic that set her apart. "She's a strong leader and extremely dedicated to softball," Harford Tech teammate Laura Amon said. "We have a lot of girls that are just up from JV last year, and it helps them to know somebody knows what they're doing."
Mason spends a lot of time working on her skills. She goes to a local batting cage almost every day, year round, and she also hones her fielding skills there.
The hard work has paid off for Mason, who already is being recruited by Division I programs such as Maryland, Delaware, Dartmouth and Cornell.
"I really love the sport," Mason said. "It's very competitive, and it makes me work hard for what I want. One of the things I've learned from playing softball so much is that it gives me a hard work ethic."
Mason began playing softball at age 6 after becoming fascinated the first time she saw her cousin play. Her parents signed Mason up for softball almost immediately, and she's been on the field ever since.
Mason played recreation softball before moving up to travel competition and then joining the Churchville Lightning club team. She has played for Churchville the past few years, playing with several players from last season's C. Milton Wright team. With the Lightning, Mason gets the opportunity to compete around the country in the spring, summer and parts of the fall.
She's been to Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, Kansas, Virginia and Pennsylvania, where the Lightning lost in the Amateur Softball Association Eastern National tournament's Class A championship game last summer.
The strong bond that was formed between the Lightning players because of the large number of practices, games and long trips made an impression on Mason. That team unity and togetherness is something she tries to push at Harford Tech.
"I wanted to bring that same concept, that same bond ... of being a team, of supporting each other, of working hard to reach your goals and relying on teammates," Mason said. "It's very important to me, and it makes us so much better as players and people to have that bond."
Even though softball is her passion, Mason also practices and regularly competes in equestrian events, specifically jumping. She hopes to become an equine veterinarian.
Mason's focus at the moment is on helping Harford Tech defend its UCBAC championship this spring. It won't be easy, as the Cobras were moved up to the tougher Chesapeake Division, where they must get past Class 4A state champion C. Milton Wright just to reach the conference title game.
Harford Tech will depend even more on Mason this season because only three starters return from last year's team, but Mongan said she's ready for the challenge.
"I believe that she has matured as a ballplayer and a person," Mongan said. "She's playing at a level that's above most girls."