The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

April 9, 2014

Grass becomes career homer leader; Lions to battle Pittsburg State today

Dawn Grass can still recall her first home run.

For that matter, she remembers her second and third homers, too.

When she was 10 years old, the mother of one of her teammates promised to give Grass $20 for each ball she hit out of the park.

“I actually hit three in a row,” Grass said. She owed me $60. It was a really nice day. She came up to me after the game and said, ‘never again.’ But she paid up.”

From that point on, Grass was hooked on the long ball.

“It’s nice,” she said. “There’s a lot less running.”

The 5-foot-11 Grass has enjoyed plenty of slow jogs around the bases during her softball career. She was an all-region slugger at Parkway South High School in Manchester, Mo., and has been a middle of the order hitter since joining Missouri Southern in 2010.

This past Sunday against Washburn, Grass became the Lions’ all-time home runs leader. The first baseman hit a towering shot to left field for the 27th home run of her career, surpassing the previous mark held by Angie Turner (2006-10).

“First of all, she knows how to hit,” Missouri Southern coach Bill Gray said. “She understands how to make adjustments, and she’s just a power hitter ... She just had those capabilities. She’s a big, strong woman who knows how to swing the bat.”

Grass has five home runs on the season and has hit at least six homers in each of her previous seasons with the Lions.

Gray said he knew she had the ability to break the record since she arrived on campus.

“Coach Gray made a comment my freshman year, saying that he could see me breaking it,” Grass said. “I was kind of like, ‘yeah right.’ ”

But Grass didn’t take long to help Gray feel good about his prediction.

During her first fall scrimmage, Grass blasted home runs over the center field trees on her first two at-bats. The heroics made her teammates believers as well.

“The year Dawn was still in high school and signed, I was talking to the team about recruits that were coming in,” Gray said. “I talked about Dawn, and said ‘Dawn hit ball far.’ They mocked me a little bit, but when she hit those two during that first fall scrimmage it kind of became everybody’s thing — Dawn hit ball far.”

Grass had a team-leading seven home runs and 33 RBI as a freshman. She tied the single-season school record with nine homers as a sophomore before missing the 2012 season due to an ankle injury suffered during the preseason.

“It wasn’t ideal, but I think it opened my eyes to some stuff like attitude and focusing more on hitting and figuring out my flaws,” Grass said.

She hit only six home runs as a junior, but her batting average improved and she’s gradually developed the ability to take the ball to the opposite field.

Through 40 games this season, Grass is hitting .345 with a team-best 14 extra-base hits, 23 RBI and 16 walks.

Missouri Southern (14-26, 6-10 MIAA) travels to Pittsburg State for an MIAA doubleheader at 4 p.m. today at the PSU Softball Complex. The Lions, who entered Tuesday 10th in the conference standings, need to stay hot in order to have a chance at making the eight-team MIAA Postseason Tournament. MSSU has won four of its past six games.

“We need to keep playing together, because that’s what has helped us the past couple of weeks,” Grass said.

The Lions will be facing a Pittsburg State team that has quite the power hitter of its own. Tiffany Brown, who has 21 home runs this season, recently broke the Gorillas’ career home run record. The 5-foot-6 Brown now has 50 homers in her career.

“Power can come in different packages,” Gray said. “They both know what pitch they want to hit. You can fool them with off-speed stuff occasionally, but you might get one swing out of it. It needs to be strike three, because if it’s strike two you’re not going to get another one.

“They’re two young women who know how to hit ... In my mind as far as the MIAA goes, they’re two of the better hitters who have ever come through the conference.”

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