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Dopudja adds fresh source of power to Redhawks' lineup
The first baseman/designated hitter has wasted little time in pounding college pitching.
Stacia Dopudja assures a reporter that college softball is not as easy as she makes it look.
"No, it's not easy at all," Dopudja said with a laugh.
Based on her smooth adjustment from high school to the Division I ranks, Dopudja would probably have a hard time convincing people that she's serious.
Dopudja, a native of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., is putting together a monster rookie season for Southeast Missouri State and is a top candidate for Ohio Valley Conference freshman of the year honors.
Dopudja has already tied the school single-season home run record and leads the Redhawks in most major offensive categories as they enter their final regular-season series this weekend at Morehead State.
"She's having a great year," Southeast coach Lana Richmond said. "Right now, she's a very strong candidate for OVC freshman of the year."
Dopudja, who has primarily played first base and designated hitter for the Redhawks, is batting .327 to lead the team. That figure ranks ninth in the OVC.
She is also tied for the team lead in home runs with 12, which is tied for second in the OVC, while topping the squad in doubles with 11 and RBIs with 39.
"She was a very good high school player and I expected her to have a solid season," Richmond said. "But she's had a breakout season."
Dopudja admitted she's a bit surprised by how well she's fared at Southeast, but she also believes hard work has been a major contributing factor.
"I'm kind of surprised, but I've been working really hard," Dopudja said. "It's exciting, but at the same time, I'm trying to be calm and not get a big head because everybody tells me how good I'm doing."
She added: "It's been very stressful coming here, because I didn't know any of the teams. It was all new, so I was really nervous.
"It's really different than high school. It's a lot tougher. But I think playing for my club team helped me prepare for this more than high school did."
Dopudja led the Southern Cal Vipers to the ASA nationals in 2005 and 2006. It was while playing for that squad in the summer that Richmond first saw Dopudja perform.
"She's also pitched a little bit for us this year, but when I saw her what really impressed me was her hitting," Richmond said. "She's so strong and her hands are so quick, and she's really aggressive. She also plays a very good first base."
While Dopudja said she always considered herself a power hitter, she didn't really know what to expect in the way of home runs once she got to Southeast.
"I've never really played with fences, so the ball keeps rolling. I'm not a real fast girl, so I would have more doubles and triples [than homers]," she said. "I was a power hitter, but not really home runs.
"It's not like I'm looking for home runs, I'm just trying to get on base. I'm really surprised [with all the homers]. I wasn't focused on it. It's just happening."
It's happened enough that Dopudja has tied the school single-season home run mark, as she and junior Michelle Summers have been waging quite a battle for that record.
Summers, a fellow Californian, hit 11 homers last season to equal the previous record that had originally been set by Kim Palmer in the 1990s.
Summers, a junior who has already shattered Southeast's career home run mark with 33, has matched Dopudja with 12 homers this season.
Dopudja has led Summers in home runs for most of the year, but a late push has allowed Summers to catch up.
With three more regular-season games remaining this weekend, Dopudja or Summers -- perhaps both -- could still add to the single-season record for home runs.
Dopudja really isn't worried about how the race is going to turn out. She's simply having fun being in the mix.
"It's real exciting," Dopudja said. "Michelle is a great player, and I totally look up to her."
Although Dopudja is attending college half a country away from her home state, she has no regrets.
"I was looking to get away from California. I've been there my whole life," she said. "I came here on a visit and just loved the area, the town, the coaches, the players. We're all close-knit, like a family.
"I love it here. The area is beautiful. It's different from California, but I like change. I couldn't be happier."
On second thought, Dopudja acknowledged that she would be happier if the Redhawks were having a better season.
Southeast (18-28, 9-15) enters its final three regular-season games eighth among 10 OVC teams, and only the top six finishers qualify for next week's conference tournament.
The Redhawks can still avoid missing the tournament for the first time in program history, but only barely. They need to sweep last-place Morehead State and then hope the squads in front of them lose just about all of their games.
But with a young team that includes just two seniors, Dopudja expects the Redhawks to bounce back next season.
"It's been disappointing, but we just need to learn from this," she said. "I think this will really motivate us for next year, and I expect us to have one of the best teams in the conference."
With major help from a young player who is making college softball look easy.