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Gold and Black Illustrated, Vol 28 Digital 4

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GOLD AND BLACK ILLUSTRATED VOLUME 28, ISSUE 4 87 of focusing on maybe some of your weaknesses.' And, also, letting her know we believe in her. That was a huge deal. Just her knowing that it's OK to fail. You're going to fail. How do we recover from that failure? A big part of our mental process for at-bats is being prepared ahead of time and then how do you recover when you fail so you can get back faster. You'll see that last year, she may have gotten out and then recovered on the next at-bat. She just had a better confidence about her. We fixed some things me- chanically, but I would say probably the biggest difference of her game from — and I can't speak for her sophomore year because I wasn't here — but for her game in the fall until spring of last year was her mental game." Hughes said she didn't just feel a shift in at-the-plate mentality, though. Her role felt clearer, too, under the new staff, she said, and that allowed her freedom to be- come the player she always thought she was capable of being at Purdue. Statistically, at least at the plate, that looked like this: First on the team in hits (63), first in runs (43), second in average (.335), second in stolen bases (17), third in on-base percentage among players with sig- nificant playing time (.365). And, just as important, Hughes struck out only 29 times in 194 plate appearances. The latter statistic was significant because, in her first two seasons, Hughes struck out every 3.5 plate appearances (29 percent of the time). As a junior — when she logged more at-bats than any other season — it was once every 6.7 appearances (15 percent). No wonder, then, De Oliveira said Hughes enjoys pressure situations, and Hughes said she felt like she's built a reputation of being able to deliver. "Her confidence has really grown," said teammate Mallory Baker, a first- team all-Big Ten pick last season as a sophomore. "She was always kind of up in the air (as a young player). It affect- ed her, each and every at-bat, what the result was. Now, she takes it in stride, learns from it. Just takes it one pitch at a time. You can tell … she's taking her breath, relaxing, getting in the box, and it's really helped her not spin out of control when she was so high and got so low, to come back and have to prove herself again. Even as a leader, for her to under- stand it is bigger than herself, I think that helped with her confidence, too." The leadership piece to Hughes' role can't be under- valued. Especially with the coaching change, she was a pivotal "connector," as De Oliveira called her, in the process of the transition and during the season as well. Hughes blossomed as a vocal leader, while maintaining a behind-the-scenes presence, too. The latter always has been her approach, whether it was texting teammates encouraging words, pulling aside younger players to work on slapping or giving tips to teammates who'd never played the outfield before (like Baker). That's in addition to coming to the cages solo, attacking the tee, blaring whatever music she'd be in the mood for at that moment or, even, maybe getting her mom on the speaker phone for a chat while she's taking measured hacks. Even though Hughes never talked about that kind of work, others still saw it, and that helped build credibili- ty and clout among teammates and, even, coaches.

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