by Eric Storms
Looking at her catcher, she changes her grip on the ball and tucks it into her black leather mitt. She plants her left foot back and explodes forward off the mound, dragging her right leg as her right arm completes the windmill throwing motion. The ball flies toward the plate. It drops into the zone and her opponent just stares at it: Strike three.
It’s a scene junior softball pitcher Bridget Hyland has grown accustomed to seeing.
Last season was Hyland’s first year starting for the WHS varsity team, and she quickly became the team’s premier pitcher. However, she dealt with an injury to her pitching arm as the season progressed.
“I threw a lot of innings and I think that I wasn’t really strong enough to do that, so I would wake up in the middle of the night in pain,” she said. “But I worked out a lot this winter so that it wouldn’t happen again this year, so hopefully I won’t have injuries.”
Aside from getting stronger, she has worked on the more complex aspects of the game.
“I can already see that she’s thinking about the game in a more mature way than she ever has,” Head Coach Caitlin MacDonald said. “She’s considering the nuances of the game: the specifics of the count to the specifics of what this person did last time to where they are in the box to what the situation calls for. She’s putting all those pieces together, so she’s really become a student of the game and that’s going to serve her well.”
Unlike many pitchers, Hyland doesn’t rely solely on throwing heat.
“I’m more of a spin pitcher,” she said. “I don’t throw 100 miles per hour at all, so I rely a lot on my spin and that’s what I work on. My best pitch is my curveball, but over the past year I’ve developed my rise, so hopefully I’ll be able to use it as a strikeout pitch this year.”
Hyland utilizes six pitches: a rise, curve, screw, drop, change and fastball. While she normally pitches to draw contact, she likes to send players back to the dugout after they have swung and missed.
“Any time that I’ve ended the game with a strikeout is a good memory because it’s a good feeling to close it out for your team,” she said. “I’m not a huge strikeout pitcher, so a lot of the time I throw pitches that hitters will either pop up or hit into the ground for my team to field, and I have a really good defense behind which helps a lot.”
But in games such as Monday’s season-opening 8-2 loss to Cranford, it’s not always enough. Three errors and sloppy Westfield defense led to five unearned runs for the Cougars.
“I think everybody on our team would agree that we didn’t do Bridget any favors,” MacDonald said after the game. “Bridget pitched a good game. She had a number of strikeouts, she pitches to contact, that’s kind of what she does. But we did not make a couple of plays that absolutely needed to be made and when you have a pitching performance like that, you hope to come out with the win. We didn’t do the best job in the world for her today, but she did her job.”
Despite eight strikeouts over seven innings, Hyland wasn’t satisfied with her performance.
“I definitely think there are things I could’ve done better, but I always think there’s something I could’ve done better,” Hyland said. “I personally think if there’s ever errors in the field, it’s my job to come back with a strikeout and take control, but I didn’t really do that that well.”
It’s a long season and Hyland will have plenty of more opportunities to achieve the perfection she seeks. But if she pitches anything like she did on Monday, she doesn’t have to feel like she let her team down.
“I think Bridget did a great job [on Monday],” senior third baseman Danielle Rinaldi said. “She had a lot of great pitches, great plays, put the ball in play for us to handle, and we didn’t really back her up too great. So she did a great job. Don’t listen to her.”