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Rock-solid Yocke the hidden gem of UK softball

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SBL 09_10 UK_USC 3 Web 30.jpgBehind the mask is a hard-nosed, vocal, sometimes sarcastic jokester, a mother-like figure, the captain of the infield and the one constant in one of the Southeastern Conference's best battery units.

Behind the mask, Megan Yocke wears a number of faces, but the only one the Kentucky softball team sees on and off the diamond is a leader.

"She pretty much does everything," said sophomore pitcher Chanda Bell, who leads the UK pitching staff with 14 wins and 2.16 ERA. "She's vocal and she's one of the funniest people on the team. She's just a great leader all around. She takes care of us in a way. She can be the mom of the team. If you're down she'll come over and tell you that you're going to be OK and be fine next time."

On Sunday, Bell broke her own single-season record for strikeouts in a season. It's been easy to praise Bell, fellow sophomore Rachel Riley and senior Amber Matousek for their dominance in the circle - and rightfully so - but some of the credit is due Yocke's way.

"Catchers make pitchers look good," Bell admitted. "Yocke is one of the best catchers I've ever pitched to. She makes my pitches look even better."

Without Yocke's tutelage and guidance, UK's dominant pitching trio, which has combined for a team ERA of 2.49, wouldn't be as successful, Lawson said.

"If she's not doing well, we won't do well," Lawson said. "Luckily she never has bad games. I don't think our pitchers would have been as successful without her. I've never seen a successful pitcher without a catcher who isn't incredibly strong and mature." 

The position of catcher is universally overlooked. It's only natural for people to associate their role models with a face. Physically, the role of catcher creates no such chance.

But day in and day out, Yocke does the dirty work. Squatting behind the plate in sometimes brutally hot conditions, Yocke has caught more than 95 percent of the pitches thrown this season. It's not a glorious role, but it's one that Yocke relishes.

"I like being someone that can help younger kids and the team excel because I've been in the roles in both sides," Yocke said. "In high school I was in the leadership role but I was also at the bottom of the totem pole. You have to have someone to look to when things aren't going your way. You've got to have somebody to go to, to say everything is fine. I like that role because I don't like panicking. I don't like when everyone around me panics, so I like to keep everyone calm."

That might be her most important role. Between every inning, batter and pitcher, Yocke is the general of the diamond.

In addition to adjusting to the drastic pitching styles of her three pitchers - no small feat, according to Bell and Lawson - Yocke is responsible for communicating the hitters' strengths and weaknesses to the defense, for aligning the defense and for relaying the pitching signs from Lawson to the pitcher.

By virtue of the position, Yocke is required to be a leader, but it's a quality that Yocke has displayed since the first day she stepped on campus. Lawson has employed so much trust into her three-year catcher that Lawson admitted Yocke could probably handle the pitching duties by herself.

"I can pretty much look at her and she knows what pitch I'm going to call and what pitch the pitcher wants," Lawson said. "The hard part about Yocke's job is it's a very selfless job. She has to give the pitcher what she wants. It kind of goes from them through her to me and then we try to figure it out, but she's always on the right page."

Even when the mask is off.

Whether it's giving teammates a ride to class or lightening the mood with a sarcastic joke, Yocke is the rock of the team. Sure, her .276 average this season isn't spectacular, but her leadership presence is irreplaceable.

"She's 21 going on 30," Lawson said. "She's very calm. She doesn't get rattled easily on the field. She's good at keeping everything in perspective. She's the same thing off the field. She's definitely got a wonderful personality and she's funny, but she's down to earth and not much bothers her."

Yocke credits her family for instilling the leadership values that have helped the Kentucky softball team continue its historic leap into relevancy. With the losses of Natalie Smith and All-American Molly Johnson next year, she'll likely have to step out from the shadows of the catcher's mask and into the spotlight as the face of the program.

Losing players the caliber of Smith and Johnson would be devastating to most teams, but the Cats should be able to sustain the blows because of the steadiness of Yocke.

"I don't want the glory," Yocke said. "I just want to win."

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