Entering the circle, picking up a softball and facing a batter provides an energized rush which Natalie Newell can't get enough of these days.
"There's a lot of adrenaline, not just at the beginning of the game or the first pitch of an inning, but the last pitch of an inning,'' says Newell, a standout, strong-arm pitcher for Goshen High School. "I love it. It's what I live for, that pressure to always perform at the highest level.''
There's one way and one way only for Natalie Newell.
She knows what becoming a champion is all about at one level -- summer AAU ball -- and now the Redskin junior is dialing in to become a winner at the high school level.
Doing whatever it takes is not simply an option -- it's the lone blueprint.
Newell told me Tuesday that she wants to help lead her team to "better things.'' A Northern Lakes Conference title is within reach, though there are highly competitive schools in the league.
But after last May's stunning 1-0, 12-inning loss to Memorial in a 4A sectional game at Warsaw, Newell admits there is -- and was -- work to be done.
Newell, who already has a perfect game two weeks ago, fanned 20 Crimson Chargers that day. Instead of the heartbreaking loss being the nail in the 2009 season, the Skins are using it as a hammer to drive home a building plan in 2010.
"I don't know if it left a bad taste my mouth, but I wanted to go out and get better,'' Newell says. "My feeling was that I wanted to get back there as soon as possible. It fired me up a little bit, too.''
"When we left that game that day, we had a long conversation in the outfield,'' says GHS coach Scott Hutcherson.
"Hutch'' asked the girls if they wanted to collapse within over the setback or make it their challenge -- to work harder, get stronger and become one of the area's elite teams.
Goshen, which struggled to score runs a year ago, but has averaged double-digits offensively this year, opted for the latter.
It begins, in so many ways, with Newell.
"She's the catalyst to all of this,'' Hutcherson says. "This girl works consistently -- winter, spring, summer, fall -- working her craft. If she's not at the level she thinks she should be, she works harder. It's all about her desire and love of the game.''
In the offseason, Newell worked on her rise ball and curve ball. She says she's been a finesse pitcher, but if you've ever seen her throw -- underhand or overhand -- you'll quickly note that she's not a finesse pitcher.
She can, though, leave batters planted like ears of corn with a knee-buckling changeup.
Newell added a 17-strikeout no-hitter to Goshen's log Wednesday at Shanklin Park. She also cracked a two-run homer.
"She tough. She has such a good change and good drop, she makes you swing,'' says Todd King, Central's coach. "We swung a lot of bad pitches because she mixes speeds so well. ''
"I've tried to get better movement on my pitches,'' Newell says, "and I'm finally starting to get a little more speed.''
Yeah, OK. More speed.
I had the opportunity to sit and watch Goshen's after-school workout on Monday. Pitchers and catchers worked together while the rest of the squad was at a variety of hitting stations.
The Skins finished with fielding drills with Newell taking reps at third base with teammates.
After a few rounds of room service ground balls, Hutcherson started slamming hot shots to fielders.
Newell had a rocket just to her right go off her glove. She got a little ticked at herself and quickly stepped up for another hot shot down the line.
This time? A clean grab followed by a laser throw across the diamond to first.
Newell's also among the handlers of the bat, whether it be hitting balls over the fence or laying down well-placed bunts.
"She's the whole ball of wax,'' Hutcherson says. "There not really a weakness to her game. It all comes down to the time she spends out of season. She comes in and is one of the most coachable players you'll ever find.''
Goshen has gone from a team which had been winning "four or five'' games a year to a 20-win season in 2009. After Wednesday's 4-0 over Central, the Skins are 5-2 with victories over Jimtown and Fairfield -- schools they lost to last spring.
In the process, GHS has gone from what was perceived to be a one-person wrecking crew to a complete team.
"People looked at our team as Natalie Newell,'' Hutcherson says. "But they've all worked hard, the weight training. They've gotten bigger, stronger, faster. They know it's possible.
"We have the right mindset and talent,'' Newell says. "My last game (before Wednesday) proved that. Even if I'm not spot-on, girls will make great plays behind me. They've shown that in practice and they've shown that in games, too.''
Great arm. Great bat. Great attitude.
Forget all the monster numbers she'll ring up this spring.
Like the man said -- the whole ball of wax.
And then some.
Bill Beck is The Elkhart Truth sports editor. Contact him at email@example.com.