STEUBENVILLE - Madeline Gulan ripped three rockets in her last high school softball game.
"I don't go to the plate looking to hit home runs," said the Steubenville Catholic Central senior, who owns the school record for most career homers with 23. "If you look to hit home runs, all you are going to do is pop up. Home runs just happen. I try to hit line drives.
"I want to hit the ball hard and that's how I've been taught. Good things happen if you hit the ball hard."
Not all the time.
Gulan's first rocket one-hopped the fence in left field during the Crusaders' Division IV sectional district semifinal at Tusky Central Catholic, giving her 27 doubles for her career.
"She's always crushed the ball," said Rick Sherman, coach of the Road Runners Elite travel team, where Gulan played during the summer. "She's a lot more disciplined at the plate. She can hit a lot of pitches now that she wasn't able to hit. She has much better bat control.
"She can handle outside pitches which, when she started as a little kid, wasn't the case. When she started, if it was an inside pitch, it was going a long way. And, if it were any place else, it was going to be a little dribbler somewhere.
"She's done a really nice job of improving her ability to hitting all pitches, instead of just a certain pitch."
Her second shot, in the top of the fifth inning with two runners on, went right at the Saints' left fielder. Six feet either way and she would have added two more RBIs to her school record.
"That's the game," she said. "I would much rather hit one hard than a little blooper."
Gulan finished her four years at Central holding two career school records with 116 RBIs and 23 home runs.
"I am just thankful I was able to play four years here," she said. "I's been an amazing journey. I am pretty blessed."
Gulan also had 134 hits and scored 100 runs, both of which head coach Jim DiCarlo believe are second on the career list behind teammate and fellow senior Micca Mirabella.
"Micca set the table and Maddy cleared the table," said DiCarlo.
Gulan's third was a single in the seventh inning as Central scored three times in a 4-3 loss.
"It's going to be tough replacing Maddy and Micca," said DiCarlo. "They have meant a lot to our program."
Gulan started every game in four years, an 82-21 record.
She delivered an extra base hit in 46 percent of her at-bats.
"Maddy is a great kid who comes from a great family," said Craig Creamer, who coached her for years. "When I went to the draft (for youth softball), I was friends with her grandfather, I was drafting the stock. I watcher her play and obviously knew her, but I also knew I was getting a really good player and my draft that round was better than everyone else's."
Gulan's on-base percentage is .470 with a .407 batting average in 329 at-bats.
"She's been a great leader for us this year," said DiCarlo. "She's a great team player. She's not out for individual stats.
"She's been our No. 3 or No. 4 hitter since Day 1. We have been used to her hitting the ball hard somewhere, and not necessarily hitting a home run. She just really hits it hard.
"Maddy has been a tremendous power hitter for us. She hits the ball with authority and she hits the ball with authority a lot."
Gulan will continue her academic and athletic careers at Fairmont State, where she will major in accounting and be a member of the softball team.
"I'm so happy for Maddy," said DiCarlo. "She has worked hard at turning herself into a good outfielder. It (Fairmont) is a place where she has the opportunity to start and, knowing Maddy like I do, she doesn't want to be on the bench. She wants to play - like all great competitors do.
"She put a lot of time into travel ball and that has really helped her. She's playing against good competition. She's paid her dues and is ready to play at the next level."
Said Sherman, "She has improved tremendously as a player. She's a lot more versatile than she used to be and, obviously, has a lot more skills. She has made herself into a really, really good softball player.
"She was more of a catcher and first base and some outfield for us. It's been a pretty significant change for her to spend all of her time in high school in the outfield."
Gulan is looking forward to making the move.
"I just loved the team when I was down there for my visit," she said. "All the players were really nice and the coaches were so welcoming."
Gulan leaves Central with 12 letters - four each in softball, swimming and volleyball.
"I have three older sisters, so I was always in the back yard playing with them," she said. "I remember my mom said, 'Oh, I'll throw with you.' I almost took her head off when I was really young and she would never throw with me again.
"My uncle Mike (Gulan) played professional baseball and I remember him hitting grounders to me and I always thought that was cool because he played professional baseball."
Although being a catcher is first, Gulan expects to compete for an outfield job as a freshman.
"All I want is a chance and the rest is up to me," she said. "I'll play wherever they need me.
"I remember when I was little, around 10 or 11, I found I could hang with the travel kids. That gave me a lot of confidence and that's where my love for the game really began. Coach D took me in when I was a seventh-grader and I instantly improved. My hitting has gotten a lot better over the four years at Central."
She knows playing in 103 Central games and countless others has not been done alone.
"My parents have done everything for me and I love them," she said. "They are there through the good and bad.
"I thank all my coaches for investing time and energy into me as a person and an athlete. I thank all my teammates for making me better. I will miss them all.
"This has been the quickest four years of my life."