Life in the slow lane
Playing outfield in slowpitch softball is an outfielder’s idea of paradise, particularly one like Alyssa Hawley who grew up playing its fastpitch counterpart.
A fastpitch outfielder can spend the greater part of game watching the grass grow beneath her feet. In the fall, however, she has to stay on her toes.
“Outfield is way more involved because there’s a lot more hitting,” said University senior center fielder Hawley. “I love it. I love defense in the first place. Every opportunity I get to be out there and get a lot of balls (is fine with her).”
Indeed, that is one of the several differences between the two versions of the same sport. One is dominated by pitching, the other by offense. One incorporates small ball – bunting and stealing – and resultant intricate situational coaching strategies; the other on mashing the ball while strategy is a coach’s arm either windmilling runners around the bases or putting up both arms to call them to a halt.
The constants are the hitter’s swing and the impact walks and errors have on a game, as U-Hi was made painfully aware Monday night. Lewis and Clark handed the Titans their first loss, 17-14, after 18 straight wins over two seasons. A 13-run fourth inning resulted from six bases on balls and three boots.
“The moral of the story, taken from a line in Bull Durham is, ‘Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains.’ It poured on us (Monday) night,” said coach Jon Schuh.
Hawley is one of four returning All-GSL players among most of the rest of the lineup back for a team that finished unbeaten in its inaugural slowpitch season.
Besides having plenty to do in the outfield, Hawley was one of a quartet of players, including fellow returnees Riki Schiermeister and Ali Warren, to hit safely in every game during the 16-0 season.
Hawley’s season batting average approached .600 and in the district title win she was 4 for 4 and drove in five runs. Her offense carried over in the spring when she batted .506 during a fastpitch season short on fireballing hurlers.
“Alyssa is a grinder,” said Schuh. “She loves to work hard, push herself and get dirty. She is extremely hard on herself, which can cause problems sometimes because she pushes too hard. When she is on, she hits the ball as hard as anyone I have had at U-Hi.”
When Hawley was a sophomore her swing gave her problems, said Schuh. She took hundreds of swings off a double tee to get on plane.
“I haven’t had too many players do that,” he said.
Such hard work also paid off on defense last spring when Hawley made a brilliant back-to-the-infield catch of a long fly ball that helped the Titans upset eventual state champion Shadle Park 1-0 for the district championship. Schuh called the catch “incredible.”
“That catch was definitely the highlight of my fastpitch career,” Hawley said. “I was standing in the outfield and, you know, you don’t expect a lot, but you’re always ready. I see it hit and I’m like, ‘OK this one’s going to be way back.’ It goes straight up and I run back as fast as I can, see it, reached out and grabbed it.”
This summer she was a member of the Northwest Wildfire that won the Western National B fastpitch championships. Now it’s time for slowpitch, a game she said that is a little more laid-back.
“You’re out to have fun,” she said. “But you’re still out to win and do your best always.”
As for hitting an arced pitch compared to the zingers that rise, drop and break in the other version of the sport, she said her batting style doesn’t change.
“It’s the same swing, you’re just seeing the ball from a different place,” Hawley said.
The difference is defense, as slowpitch softball means more work for the outfielder – which is just fine for Hawley.