August 13, 2014 11:03:10 AM
Strikeouts don't define Kaitlyn Oswalt.
As impressive as the Heritage Academy junior right-hander has been through the first 12 games of the fast-pitch season, she doesn't get too caught up in the fact she entered this week with 96 strikeouts and 13 walks in 58 1/3 innings. That is the kind of ratio coaches love.
But Heritage Academy coach Gary Harris has enjoyed watching Oswalt hone another facet of her game. Instead of getting frustrated by allowing 32 unearned runs this season, Harris has seen Oswalt begin to understand how to manage counts, how to work around hitters when she has bases open, and how to keep her poise when she has to get one or two more outs in an inning.
"I think her better games were like the game against Pillow (Academy)," Harris said. "She didn't have a high strikeout count (zero walks, six strikeouts), but she pitched to contact and she made great pitches with two strikes to get pop ups or soft ground balls to get outs."
Oswalt's performance against Pillow Academy (a 2-0 loss) was part of a week that saw her go 2-3 and pitch all 25 innings for the Lady Patriots. Oswalt, a transfer from New Hope High School, earned victories against Oak Hill Academy and Hebron Christian and suffered losses against Pillow Academy (two) and Winona Christian. For the week, she walked four and struck out 36.
For her accomplishments, Oswalt is The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week.
Harris admits Heritage Academy's youth has forced Oswalt to learn to adjust to mistakes behind her and to longer innings. She also has had to work with a new catcher, Macy Walters, because Brooklyn Waldrep, the team's returning catcher from last season, is suffering from mononucleosis. In addition to watching Oswalt mature as a pitcher, Harris has been pleasantly surprised to see Walters to develop into a solid catcher who is working extremely well with Oswalt.
"It's tough on her," Harris said. "I have told the girls we have got to learn to make plays behind her because she is making extra pitches she shouldn't have to be making."
Harris said part of Oswalt's maturation involves using more than a fastball. He said she is building confidence with her curveball and changeup to be able to throw those pitches in any count. Harris believes the development of second, third, and fourth pitches will be key for Oswalt if she wants to realize her dream and get an opportunity to play softball or pitch in college.
"She is learning how to be more of a thrower. She is learning to be a pitcher," Harris said. "The learning curve has been really neat to watch."
Oswalt admits she has had a tendency to be hard on herself. She said she has been accustomed to having the ball in her hand and taking it upon herself to strike batters out to get the team out of innings. She said it sometimes it is tough to work errors, but she said she understands her teammates are young. Just as she had become more comfortable and confident with Walters, Oswalt said she has seen her teammates' defensive efforts improve since the beginning of the season.
"It's tough, but it is getting easier each game," Oswalt said. "I don't have the best attitude on the plate, but I try to make it better. I put it my hands. If they hit it, I say it is my fault. But it doesn't always have to be my fault. The next batter, I try to strike them out. When I try to strike a batter out, it gets really bad, and usually I don't pitch my best when I am trying to strike batters out. I pitch the best when I am putting it in the defense's hands. If they hit it, the defense has my back."
Entering this week, Oswalt had a 1.68 earned run average and had allowed 60 hits in 58 1/3 innings. She has had three games with double-digit strikeouts and another game with nine. She had six games without giving up an earned run and two more when she allowed only one earned run.
As much as those numbers reflect progress from last season, Oswalt's first year at Heritage Academy and being back in a role as her team's No. 1 pitcher. Oswalt said she will keep working on her "spins" because she knows those pitches will help her have more success against the heart of opponents' batting orders and against better teams. Continued success in developing other pitches also will help improve Oswalt's already gaudy statistics -- not that she will notice, though.
"I need to stop trying to overdo the pitching," Oswalt said. "I need to believe in my mechanics and not try to strike every batter. I need to stop giving up leadoff walks. If I can get better at that, it will get much easier."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @cdispatch.com
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.