With the grass still dewing from the night before and the lines freshly chalked, the Boyd and Jill Smith Family Stadium was ready to go for the final day of the Louisville Slugger Classic. One could easily see that daylight savings had just occurred, because the air was cold and the sky was foggy, both uncommon for a 10 a.m. game start. The Minnesota Golden Gophers walked down the steps of the stadium into the visiting third-base dugout hoping to leave California 5-0 on the weekend.
As the lineups for both teams were called, Kylie Sorenson stepped into the circle, ball in hand and cleats pressed against the pitching rubber to proceed with her five warm-up pitches. Fastball, curve ball, drop ball, screw ball, changeup. The catcher threw the last pitch down to second and the field was live. Batter up.
Sophomore infielder Kylie Sorenson hasn’t pitched since she was 12. She wasn’t recruited as a pitcher and she wasn’t supposed to ever pitch in college. She’s a shortstop, and a heck of a shortstop at that. She led the team her freshman year in batting average (.363), doubles (16), slugging percentage (.586), walks (37), and on-base percentage (.495). She had 8 errors and contributed to 165 outs in a 55-game season.
But this year especially, Sorenson has found herself embarking on a new spot on the dirt only 43 feet from home plate. With a slower speed, Sorenson is able to catch hitters off-guard. She mixes slower with slower, stringing together combinations of changeups and drop balls that drop heavily through the bottom half of the strike zone forcing hitters to roll over or swing out in front of the ball missing it all together.
Her infielders came in to the circle and praised her efforts after forcing the leadoff batter to hit a pitch off the end of her bat on an inside drop ball for the first out of the game on a 1-2 count.
“The best part of pitching is that your teammates know how hard you are working. They support you and know you are doing everything you can to help the team,” Sorenson said.
With a minimal depth on the mound this year, position players like Sorenson have stepped up to do what the team needs of them, even if it means giving up her starting spot on the left side of the field.
It is not an easy role to take on, but it’s what’s needed.
Sorenson faced a powerhouse Minnesota lineup with four Gophers hitting well over .400 and an additional five hitting over .300. The No. 17 ranked Big 10 team scored 4 runs on 5 hits off of Sorenson in three innings.
“I know I’m not a pitcher, and sometimes you feel like you’re taking the game out of your team’s hands when you get put in,” she said.
But regardless of the home runs, shots off the wall and walks Sorenson might give up this season, she has a great deal to be proud of. She’s stepped up and into a role that day-in and day-out isn’t easy. It frustrates her and is less than satisfying, especially as an elite Division I softball player, but that doesn’t stop her efforts. She is doing what is needed of her, with no regard for what her ERA might look like or how many home runs she gave up in the previous three innings.
“It’s taught me how much of a team sport this game really is. Offense doesn’t win games. Pitching doesn’t win games. The team has to, together, give its all to win each game.”
Contact Erin Ashby at eashby ‘at’ stanford.edu.