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‘Much better’ Patton helps ignite Dakota offense PHOTO GALLERY

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Patton bats in the No. 2 spot behind Corbin Hison and ahead of Kattie Popko

EAST LANSING >> Olivia Patton wasn’t disappointed at all just playing in the outfield during Dakota’s run to the Division 1 state championship game last year.

But she likes her expanded role this season.

“She was just the odd person out last year,” Dakota coach Rick Fontaine said. “She was frustrated and battled through and remained our centerfielder.

“She improved a ton this offseason,” Fontaine added. “She puts the ball in play and is stealing bases. She’s come up huge for us.”

Patton bats in the No. 2 spot behind Corbin Hison and ahead of Kattie Popko.

“I knew what my role was last season and I was fine with that because that’s what we needed,” Patton said. “Me, Corbin and Kattie start off the game pretty well, but being up to bat and playing in the field is a lot different this year. I like it a lot.”

Patton is a left-handed slapper.

“I’ve really focused this year on each pitch and putting the ball into play,” Patton said. “You have to stay on top of the ball and hit it on the ground and beat the throw the first base.”

She’s been a slapper since an early age.

“It’s very different than regular hitting,” Patton said. “You start at a different time, your feet are constantly moving and there are a lot of things that can go wrong for you that’ll not make you successful. As long as everything stays in line and you focus on doing your job, good things will come out of it.”

There’s also the issue of making contact with the softball outside the batter’s box.

“The changeups are always difficult because you start at the same time no matter what,” Patton said. “You’re expecting the same speed, so when the changeup comes, you have to stay back in the box so you don’t get called out.”

Patton is second on the team in batting average and has yet to be thrown out trying to steal a base.

In Thursday’s 6-3 semifinal win over Mattawan, Patton recorded just her second triple of the season. This came after her first base hit barely made it out of the infield.

“The defense usually comes in, which makes me kind of mad because they don’t think you have that much power,” Patton said. “They usually shift after my first at-bat or do it if they think I’m bunting. I’ll hopefully hit it over their head if I can.”

Patton’s slap rocketed to the gap in left-center.

“You get a little respect back after hits like that,” Patton joked.

“She got a hold of that, has great speed and made it all the way around to third,” Fontaine said. “Base hits in softball usually don’t score runners from second base, but if she’s on second base, she can usually score on pretty much any base hit. That helps.”

Patton’s number one goal each time up is just to put the ball in play.

“That’s where she’s really become a much better player,” said Fontaine, whose team meets Grandville at 12:30 p.m. today for the Division 1 state championship at Michigan State University.

Last Updated: 6/16/2017 6:53:27 PM EST