Moore freshman Halle Melone had never played slowpitch softball and she didn't plan on starting this season in fear of damaging her swing.
Her plans changed when her grandfather Joe Couchenour died in November, sparking a season to remember for the power hitter.
“I decided to play for my grandpa,” Melone said. “It really didn't affect (my swing) any. It actually helped me. It made me wait on the off-speed pitches a lot better.”
Becoming one of the most feared hitters in the metro, Melone tied the school record for home runs with 27 and drove in 96 runs as the Lions reached the state semifinals to earn The Oklahoman's All-City Player of the Year honors.
Perhaps even more impressive was her ability to produce in the clutch. Moore coach Mickey Wakefield said Melone hit more than a handful of grand slams, and the combination of senior Shelby Lynch, Melone and sophomore Zoey Pilcher hit back-to-back-to-back homers multiple times this season.
“She has just crazy power,” Wakefield said of Melone. “As a freshman this year in slowpitch, she had more power than I had ever seen any of our girls ever have, and I'm not just talking freshman I'm talking any player we've had. She hit some balls as far as I've seen anybody hit them.”
Melone has the athletic ability in her blood.
Couchenour was a solid player in the military leagues, starring at catcher for Air Force. He even earned a chance to try out for the New York Yankees, but his career was ruined by a play at the plate that injured his leg.
He later taught Melone the game until the point of his death from liver cancer at 76.
“I fell in love with the game,” Melone said. “I've never wanted to quit.
“He was at all of the games he could make it to. Whenever we would go out of state for a big tournament or nationals, he would always go with us.”
Couchenour's death turned to inspiration for Melone to play slowpitch, even with her hitting instructor and former University of Oklahoma infielder Mandy Fulton advising otherwise.
“Obviously, she's made great adjustments. She's one heck of a slowpitch hitter as well as a fastpitch hitter,” Fulton said. “It's awesome to overcome obstacles and stay strong and to have that outlook to even play softball.”
And if Melone keeps hitting at a record-setting pace and improving, the future could be limitless.
“As a freshman she showed that she has the potential to be a batter feared not just in high school, but in college,” Wakefield said.