Odicci Alexander winced in ache as a not-as-soft-as-advertised ball bounced off her left foot within the batter’s field. James Madison’s star pitcher would lose some toenails after getting hit by the pitch in a recreation Sunday, ESPN reported the day after, however Alexander dutifully stepped again into the circle when referred to as. When she pitched, the right-hander dragged her injured foot by means of the grime.
“Blood, sweat and tears,” Alexander stated. “I used to be going to maintain pitching for my teammates.”
Alexander’s heroic effort pitching James Madison to the nationwide semifinals — the longest run for an unseeded workforce on the Girls’s School World Sequence — received hearts as she grew to become the most recent pitcher to step into the highlight on school softball’s greatest annual stage.
Together with an electrifying defensive play and trending on Twitter, the redshirt senior threw 434 pitches in 4 video games in Oklahoma Metropolis, the place No. 1 Oklahoma and No. 10 Florida State play in a best-of-three championship collection beginning Tuesday.
The Sooners superior to the ultimate after Giselle Juarez, pitching her third recreation in three days, threw 118 pitches in a 7-1 win over James Madison on Monday.
A triple-digit pitch depend is customary for hard-working aces in Oklahoma Metropolis, the place pitchers typically take the circle for consecutive days or begin twice in a day for doubleheaders. Some pitchers are two-way stars, similar to Alexander and UCLA’s Rachel Garcia, who’re high hitters.
Garcia threw 217 pitches within the first two days of the match, however the No. 2 Bruins fell into the losers’ bracket, forcing them to play an elimination recreation whereas competing for a 3rd consecutive day. She hurled 106 extra pitches in a season-ending 10-3 loss to Oklahoma.
The final time Garcia carried an identical load, it ended in another way for the Bruins. It wasn’t the plan to have the right-hander throw 603 pitches in 5 video games over six days in 2019, however she educated as if it had been.
Earlier than the Olympian tossed 36 of UCLA’s 38 innings en path to the 2019 nationwide championship, Garcia was leaping rope and sprinting on a stationary bike in between bullpen throws. Her coronary heart was racing, however every beat strengthened her thoughts as a lot because it did her physique.
“If the athlete is educated and conditioned and ready, it’s actually who’s acquired the most important quantity of guts,” UCLA assistant Lisa Fernandez stated.
Fernandez overhauled how UCLA’s pitchers and catchers put together when she took over bullpen teaching duties in 2019. The three-time Olympic gold medalist instilled her personal mentality of outworking her opponents to her pupils, instituting “champ camps” throughout bullpen periods.
UCLA’s pitchers alternate cardio workout routines with pitching to check their bodily efficiency whereas fatigued. They put on tights and sleeves underneath their uniforms to simulate the overheated feeling of pitching in Oklahoma Metropolis’s June humidity.
The coaching paid off for Garcia when she threw 179 pitches in a 10-inning victory over Washington within the nationwide semifinal. The pitcher had sufficient power to hit the walk-off dwelling run regardless of feeling fatigued within the punishing warmth.
“I simply had this intestine feeling of that is our time,” Garcia stated. “We labored our butts off to get to that second.”
Pitchers prepare for these moments from a younger age. Whereas baseball groups typically inventory deep pitching staffs, softball rosters don’t run longer than three or 4 pitchers. Youth tournaments typically function three or 4 video games a day, stated former Washington pitcher Danielle Lawrie, who pitched the Huskies to the NCAA title in 2009.
Lawrie accrued a 42-8 report, 0.97 ERA and 521 strikeouts that season. She pitched 352 2/3 innings, an astronomical quantity that would have been greater if Lawrie hadn’t sat out for 3 weeks due to a stress fracture in her forearm.
“For me, it was all I knew,” Lawrie stated of the heavy workload.
Lawrie restricted throwing periods through the week to save lots of her physique for the weekends. She labored with pitching coach Lance Glasoe to watch how she felt after every observe and whether or not she wanted an additional day of relaxation.
After throwing two full video games, together with a 15-inning marathon, in an NCAA regional doubleheader towards Massachusetts in 2009, Lawrie remembers needing a number of further days. She threw 395 pitches in someday: 144 in a 5-1, seven-inning loss and 251 within the second recreation that began half-hour later.
The following morning, her shoulder and again muscular tissues reminded her of every one.
“I actually [felt] like I acquired run over by a truck,” Lawrie stated.
The widespread line about softball’s lack of a pitch depend focuses on the “pure” throwing movement. However analysis has debunked a few of these theories.
A 1998 study by researchers on the American Sports activities Drugs Institute examined the pitching movement of eight feminine softball pitchers and located that gamers expertise vital pressure on their joints. Peak compressive forces on the elbow and shoulder had been equal to 70% to 98% of physique weight for softball pitchers whereas compressive forces on the elbow and shoulder for baseball pitchers topped out between 80% to 120% of physique weight.
Variations within the sports activities “forestall a direct comparability to overhand pitching,” the authors wrote, “nonetheless, these outcomes query the idea that underhand pitching doesn’t create vital stress on the shoulder and elbow.”
A 2017 study by researchers from the Washington College College of Drugs in St. Louis confirmed that pitchers expertise progressive improve in shoulder fatigue, ache and weak spot throughout two- and three-day tournaments with out full restoration between consecutive days of pitching. Sustaining correct approach and good posture whereas slowly ramping up for a season to restrict widespread early-season accidents were recommended to guard athletes from long-term hurt.
Lengthy outings throughout her youth and school profession didn’t jeopardize Lawrie’s future in softball. She performed professionally for 4 years, and the mom of two is returning to pitch for Staff Canada within the Tokyo Olympics, which shall be her second Olympic look.
Regardless of her personal expertise, Lawrie doesn’t want the identical workload on at the moment’s younger pitchers.
“I hope that the sport is evolving in a means the place one pitcher is just not having to throw three or 4 video games as a result of it truly is rather a lot,” Lawrie stated. “It’s not prefer it does an entire ton of injury in your arm, however I believe mentally, it may put on on you somewhat bit.”
Oklahoma epitomizes the brand new type with the very best offense within the nation and a pitch-by-committee bullpen. The Sooners boast a .410 workforce batting common and are hitting 2.72 dwelling runs per recreation .
But, as James Madison’s Alexander confirmed, pitching can nonetheless win the day.
She shut down the potent Oklahoma offense within the first spherical, giving up six hits and placing out 9 in a 4-3, eight-inning victory that despatched the Sooners into the losers’ bracket.
Oklahoma rallied by means of 4 elimination video games, together with back-to-back wins over Alexander, whose fatigue was evident after going through the Sooners thrice through the match. She gave up six runs in Monday’s elimination recreation and talked her means out of an early hook earlier than lastly exiting after throwing 1,057 pitches through the three-weekend NCAA match.
The Oklahoma Metropolis crowd, largely carrying Oklahoma’s crimson and cream, rose to its ft as Alexander fought again tears.