Valley product Nealer adds new pitching arsenal for Allegheny softball
For most of her dominant pitching career, Caitlin Nealer has been all about glove-popping power and speed.
It's always been, sling it and bring it; catch it if you can.
But the Allegheny College sophomore has added some new pitches to her repertoire — some cool bleu cheese to go with the heat.
“The ball is moving in all directions now,” said Nealer, a Valley High School graduate. “I never thought I would have this many pitches.”
In addition to her locked-and-loaded fastball and change-up, the right-hander has added a dropper, screwball, curve and riser.
“I have the full six (pitches) now,” she said.
That's bad news for opponents in the North Coast Athletic Conference, where Nealer is the reigning pitcher of the year. Nealer (9-10) leads the conference in strikeouts with 148, or 1.2 per inning.
Most recently, she was named NCAC Pitcher of the Week. Her honor stemmed from a stretch where she fanned 27 batters across four games while allowing only three hits.
That included a one-hitter against Wooster that saw her strike out 10. In the second game of the doubleheader, she struck out two more batters to earn her first save for the Gators (11-13, 4-2 NCAC).
“We have a new coaching staff, so things are different,” Nealer said. “Coach Lauren (Radwan) played at Gannon. She came in and told me she wanted to make me more than a fastball pitcher. I like the fact that she challenged me.”
A three-time all-state pick, as well as WPIAL and PIAA champion at Valley, Nealer had opportunities to play at higher-level colleges.
“I think about that a lot, actually,” said Nealer, who went 22-1 with 237 strikeouts as a senior at Valley. “I was afraid to travel too far away from home.”
Allegheny, located in Meadville, is a Division III school. Nealer knows she could have played Division II or, perhaps, Division I softball, but remains content and comfortable with her surroundings.
It doesn't hurt that three of her teammates are friends from the Alle-Kiski Valley.
Junior outfielder Maureen Pallone and freshman catcher Katrina George are Valley grads and won championships with Nealer.
Another freshman catcher, Mikayla Moretti, is a Knoch graduate and played travel ball with Nealer with the Pittsburgh Freedom.
Another local teammate is freshman infielder Allie Landowski, who went to Burrell.
“It feels like high school again,” Nealer said. “Katrina caught me in high school; she calls great games. She makes all the calls for me, so that helps a lot.”
Nealer, Pallone and George hit 5-6-7 in the lineup.
George looks forward to catching Nealer and having a say-so over which pitch comes next. The two have chemistry, something that has developed over time.
“We have a good connection,” George said.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.