Filling in for graduated teammates can be a daunting task for any up-and-coming player.
Sophomore Lauren Harvey and junior Claire Velaski are in that position at this stage of their collegiate softball careers.
The Linfield duo is following accomplished alumnae pitchers Brittany Miller and Kendra Strahm.
Miller has nearly twice as many strikeouts as the next closest pitcher in the record books. She and Strahm are first and second, respectively, in career wins and games started, and both helped win a national championship in 2007.
Despite their success this season, Velaski said she and Harvey could not compare themselves to Miller and Strahm because every pitcher has a style of her own.
Harvey knows this year’s pitching staff has to make a name for itself.
“Everyone knows Kendra and Brittany were really great pitchers, and they had successful careers here,” she said. “Every pitcher is different, and I think we just proved we can get the job done, too.”
And the proof is in the numbers.
Harvey leads the Northwest Conference in wins and earned run average. Velaski is second in both categories, as well as strikeouts. Not since 2006 have two Linfield pitchers accomplished this one-two feat.
“Each of the pitchers has her own strengths and weaknesses,” head coach Jackson Vaughan said. “[Harvey and Velaski] just have to keep striving to reach their own potential and be good in their own way for us.”
Pitching after Strahm and Miller, Linfield’s current hurlers put Harvey and Velaski in some pressure-packed situations so they would be ready when their time came, Vaughn said.
The strategy paid off now that Harvey and Velaski are the top two pitchers in the NWC.
The four years Strahm and Miller were with the Wildcats, the program had its top-four years in batting average, home runs and runs batted in.
Even with limited experience in postseason play, the two realize they are pitching to the best of competition.
“Everyday at practice, we’re facing some of the best hitters in the nation, and a lot of times, it’s harder than it is in games,” Velaski said. “Knowing that the team we’re going up against has to pitch to our team gives me confidence.”
Harvey agreed, noting that opposing pitchers cannot rest facing a lineup with strong hitters from the leadoff to the ninth spot. Every time the two step into the pitching circle, they have faith that their offense will come through.
The season’s back-loaded schedule was another confidence boost.
Linfield’s biggest conference opponents were scheduled last, giving the two time to fine-tune their pitches and gain confidence as the season went forward.
After securing this year’s NWC title, the two will lead the Wildcats to the NCAA Western Regionals May 13-16.
“I expect that when [the team] gets to regionals, we’ll do well,” Velaski said. “[The team] hasn’t peaked yet, and that’s what’s so exciting about this year. In past years, we’ve peaked a little early and kind of got stagnant. And I think we’re still going up.”
Freelancer Kurtis Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org