Making the pitch: Solid pitching propels Fruita, Central all the way to 5A state tournament
A softball team’s success starts with pitching, but the pitchers wouldn’t be successful without a good catcher and a solid defense.
The Central and Fruita Monument high school pitchers have dependable catchers and reliable defenses.
The Wildcats’ pitchers, Erika Chirdon and Mallory Paulson, have leaned on Ashleigh Wissel, who calls all the pitches.
“She calls a bunch of good pitches for me, but sometimes she calls some pitches I’m not very confident in,” Paulson said. “I’m like, ‘No, no, no,’ and she’s like ‘Yes!’ She’ll stare at you and you’re like, ‘All right!’
“I’ve learned to trust her with the pitches.”
“Or she’ll throw it back really hard, and it hurts your hand, and you’re like, ‘All right,’ ” Chirdon said.
Chirdon, a senior, and Paulson, a sophomore, have combined to pitch 17 complete games, including 10 shutouts for the Wildcats. Chirdon is 10-1 with a 1.35 ERA. Paulson is 9-1 with two saves and a 1.35 ERA.
“They are the heart of the team,” Wissel said. “They give all of us confidence because we know it’s not going to just be us (the defense). It builds confidence in the team knowing we have them on the mound.”
Chirdon and Paulson shut out Westminster and Eaglecrest last weekend to qualify for the Class 5A state tournament at Aurora Sports Park. Fruita Monument (19-2) plays Pomona (14-6-2) in the first round at 12:15 today. On an adjacent field, Central (18-3) plays Standley Lake (14-8) at 12:15 p.m. The winners meet in the quarterfinals at 2:30 this afternoon.
“They are two completely different pitchers,” Fruita coach Jamie Dunn said. “All season long people have been saying, ‘Coach, who’s your No. 1?’ I have two No. 1 pitchers.
“I believe they are two of the better pitchers in the state. To have them on my team is huge. Mallory threw phenomenally. She seems to get stronger and better every game. Erika knows how to get ground balls and pop-ups. I’m proud of both of them.”
Central’s Mikayla Duffy and Danielle Romine have a similar relationship as the Fruita pitchers and catcher. They have been the Warriors’ battery for four years.
“Mikayla has grown so much since her freshman year,” Romine said. “Her freshman year, she thought she had to strike everybody out. Now, she’s OK with giving up a hit because she knows her defense is behind her.”
Duffy had to learn how to pitch to her defense and trust it with the pitching circle moved back three feet this year.
“It’s definitely helped me playing on my summer ball team,” Duffy said. “The college coaches made me learn you’re not supposed to strike everyone out.
“The thing about pitching, the harder you throw it, the farther it goes (when it’s hit). You definitely have to work your pitches. It takes a good catcher like D to help you out there.”
Duffy is 13-2 with a 2.02 ERA, seven complete games and 94 strikeouts in 90 innings.
“Mikayla is used to (the circle back 3 feet) because she pitches that way in the summer, but it does give the hitters three more feet to see the ball,” Central coach Scott Else said. “It also gives the pitcher a little more time to make the pitch move.
“She’s got a great change-up. She didn’t like it earlier in her career. She likes the change-up now. She’s got a good rise ball and a good screwball.”
Duffy has one of the top offenses in the state on her side. The Warriors (18-3) are hitting .471 with a state-leading 41 home runs. Duffy and Jessica Romine have each hit a school-record 12. Danielle Romine has 10 home runs.
“This team has developed so much this year,” Duffy said. “We have become such a hitting and defensive team. I don’t think I’ve had such a good hitting team. No matter what hitter in the lineup, we’re hitters.
“It’s been a great year offensively for us.”