A crafty lefthander from back in the days before the designated hitter once quipped that “Good pitching will beat good hitting any time, and vice versa.”
The University girls fastpitch softball team is banking on the vice versa.
Oh, the Titans have good pitching. But the team also boasts a top-to-bottom lineup that flat-out hits the ball.
Tuesday they hit their way past Hanford, 4-3 in a first-round game in the Class 4A regional tournament.
“This year there is really no one on our roster that can’t put the ball in play hard,” outfielder Sierra Apodaca said. “We just have a lot of confidence stepping into the box to hit. We know what we like to hit. We’ve had some really good hitting games, and we know what we can do. We’re very good at taking advantage of situations.”
U-Hi (18-2 overall, 16-2 in the Greater Spokane League) won the league regular season title, scoring in double digits 10 times – including a 35-0 shellacking of Ferris and a 26-5 win over North Central.
One of the Titans secrets comes from their approach at the plate, and the fact that they get the chance to hit off live pitching on an everyday basis.
“That’s Coach (Jon) Schuh,” Apodaca said. “He throws us live batting practice every day, even on game days. Any time we can get in some hitting, he’s always up for throwing B.P.
“And Coach (Don) Owen will throw for us, too. In fact, it’s good that we get to see both of them because they throw at different speeds and that helps us learn to adjust.”
It’s so much more useful, Apodaca insists, than hitting off a pitching machine.
“The ball comes out flat from the machine, and it’s not really all that accurate,” she explained. “And the ball doesn’t move anything like the way it moves off a live arm. Schuh, especially, he can put some movement on the ball.”
The approach the Titans takes is simple: hit the ball hard.
“That’s what Schuh preaches,” Apodaca said. “That’s all he asks of any of us. He talks about having soft hands, knowing what you want to do before you step into the box and not doing a lot of thinking while you’re at the plate. Just put the ball in play hard and force the other team to have to make a play.”
Apodaca and her teammates know the rest of the GSL quite well after growing up playing most of the players from the league. Familiarity is good for some things, but when it comes to pitchers and hitters, it gets old.
Apodaca and the Titans are looking forward to the playoffs, where a whole new crop of pitchers will present themselves.
Apodaca hits No. 2 in the U-Hi batting order, which puts some added responsibility on her at the plate.
“Our leadoff hitter is really good at getting on base,” she said. “Hitting two this year, I’m really used to bunting her over, sacrifice bunting and slap-hitting. She’s really fast and steals bases pretty easily, so I get to play around with the pitcher a little bit. We just play for one run at a time.”
The Titans know what it takes to get through the playoffs and reach the state Class 4A tournament, which is played in their own backyard at the Merkel Sports Complex. A year ago they reached the quarterfinal round and lost to eventual state finalist Woodinville.
The state tournament features a who’s who of college-bound pitchers every year. Every year there are several players hurling their teams toward a state championship who are bound for Division I college programs.
“We know what to expect,” Apodaca said. “The key for us, I think, is for us to not be so in our own heads. We have to think and we have to be confident, and when bad things happen we just have to flush it and move on. We can’t afford to get our heads down, and that can be easier said than done.
“Look, you’re going to make mistakes. That’s part of the game. For a hitter, you have to keep a level head and keep reminding yourself that there are going to be better moments. Learn from it all and keep your confidence.”
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