For more than half of her pitching career at Central Valley, Alyssa Erickson was linked in tandem with Lauren Mandler.
When Mandler suffered an arm injury that cost her much of last season and subsequently ended her career, Erickson found herself going it entirely alone.
“Lauren re-aggravated it this summer,” Bears coach Jeff Van Horne said prior to this year. “She had an opportunity to play in college, so obviously I’m sad for a lot of reasons. But Alyssa pitched the last three-quarters of last season so it’s not something new.”
Beginning as freshmen, they split mound duties. Erickson had a 16-11 record and Mandler a 19-11 mark during two-plus seasons. At the time of Mandler’s injury, she was 3-1 with a 1.30 earned run average and Erickson was 3-2.
Erickson pitched the rest of the regular season, finishing 12-4 and was an All-Greater Spokane League selection. She pitched the Bears into the District 8 final and ultimately to just the school’s second state tournament.
“I don’t remember when she hurt herself,” Erickson said. “I just knew something was wrong and I had to step up for her.”
Erickson claims one isn’t the loneliest number, saying she likes being the only pitcher.
So far this year she’s 10-2 as her Bears are one game behind University. Erickson leads the league with a 1.38 ERA and is second in strikeouts with 84. She’s also the fourth-leading hitter in the league with a .568 batting average and is second in hits – behind teammate Gen Aman in both categories – and leads the league with six doubles.
“I definitely like the pressure and want the big games,” Erickson said. “I liked having the team need me, and knowing I was the only one made me work 200 percent harder.”
That bulldog determination was evident from the time she began pitching at age 9, said her father, Bob, who also coaches her.
An older sister, 2000 graduate Amy, also pitched for the regional-qualifying Bears. Alyssa, nine years younger, tagged along.
“My sister was a pitcher and I wanted to be a pitcher,” Alyssa said.
Alyssa said she wanted to be a pitcher and a catcher, but her dad made her choose.
“She always wanted to be like Amy, but better than her,” Bob said. “She has a very competitive nature.”
Alyssa worked with Ron Bradstreet, pitching coach at North Idaho College, since the beginning. She’ll follow him to NIC next year. Standing just 5-foot-4, she’s not prototypical pitching size, but has made up for it with hard work, determination and guile in lieu of power.
Erickson said that she has “really small hands” and has had to adjust her grip to accommodate her rise ball. Her favorite pitch is the screwball.
“I know I’m not the biggest person, probably one of the smallest. So I have to work on driving and pushing off the mound,” she said. “I know I can’t overpower teams with my speed, so I always work on movement and my spots to get people off guard.”
She began playing select softball early for her dad. A highlight for them came in 2007 when Bob’s club merged into the Northwest Wildfire and she helped pitch them to championship of the Western National B Fastpitch tournament in Spokane.
When she and Mandler arrived at CV for the 2006 GSL season, Van Horne said having two capable pitchers was a luxury.
“In our season, with the weather we get every year, sometimes you play four, maybe five games a week,” he said. “It’s tough when you only have one girl.”
The Bears reached the Eastern Regional both years and last season CV qualified for state for the first time since 1996.
Erickson flourished as CV’s exclusive pitcher. She beat University 1-0 in a second-place tiebreaker last year and again in the district playoffs that followed. She pitched 26 of 29 regional innings – Mandler returned and got to pitch a game at state – including a 1-0 eight-inning victory over Walla Walla and, in the state qualifier, 4-2 over Pasco, shutting out the Bulldogs the final six innings.
“That was one of the best days of my life, qualifying for state,” Erickson said. “I couldn’t believe there was more to do, that our season was not over.”
The state experience in Tacoma was a revelation.
“Going to state was so amazing,” she said. “It was a whole different level of competition, but once there you know you’re good enough to compete with everyone else.”
The top returning pitcher this year in league, Erickson is a reason the Bears were picked in preseason as the GSL favorite.
Van Horne said that over the past four years, she has been a hard worker who has made steady improvement.
“She’s matured as a pitcher, knowing that every pitch and call is not going to go her way,” he said. “She’s learning how to handle adversity, pitch out of situations and lead the team. She’s really improved every single year. Her dedication and determination in a game she loves has paid off.”