Hempfield pitcher back to full strength for stretch run
There's an old adage that says a team is only as good as its next day's starting pitcher.
If that phrase were to be applied to the 2013 Hempfield softball team, one would find the Spartans are by the definition of the phrase, a good team.
Standing at 11-3 overall and 7-2 in section play after Tuesday's win over Norwin, the Spartans are in second place in Section 1-AAAA, and senior pitcher Hope Pehrson has played a big role in that success, starting almost every game.
Hempfield coach Bob Kalp cited location, control and fielding ability as the best parts of the four-year starter's game that have allowed her to be so dominant this season. Pehrson has a 9-3 record and one save to go with a 1.62 ERA and 58 strikeouts in more than 70 innings.
“She has an understanding of what she's trying to do,” Kalp said. “She has matured since her freshman year defensively. … Hope doesn't make mistakes. She knows where to go with the ball, and she really fields her position well. “
After starting as a freshman, Pehrson was the team's starting pitcher on Hempfield's 2011 team that went 17-1, before losing in the WPIAL quarterfinals. But a severe arm injury cut her junior year short last season, and she finished with a 7-2 record with a 1.24 ERA.
Still rehabbing coming into this season, Pehrson was not able to pitch two days in a row but got the go-ahead to do so two weeks ago. She has continued to improve since.
“As I pitch during the games, I get stronger and stronger as I go on,” Pehrson said. “Definitely, my arm is completely back in gear.”
Looking up at Latrobe in the section standings, Hempfield is still very much in contention for a section title, and Kalp has all the confidence in Pehrson to lead Hempfield, citing that while she is not a flashy strikeout pitcher, she gets the job done.
“She pitched the season we were 17-1 (2011) and I never gave it a thought,” Kalp said. “She trotted out there every game and was very effective. She was effective early on in her junior year until she got hurt. She's not going to strike out 15 batters or 14 batters, but she's going to get her four or five and she will get you balls that can be fielded.”
Pehrson has also played an important role off the field, aiding in the development of sophomore pitcher Taylor Bartlow, a promising young pitcher who posted a 1-0 record with a spotless ERA in limited action last season before going 2-0 this season with 11 strikeouts in 15 1⁄3 innings.
“(Hope has) been very supportive,” Kalp said. “She talks to her between innings. Hope's been there; when you get out on the rubber you're out there by yourself. Unless you've done it before you don't understand it, but Hope helps her all the time. ... She's been a big help to her.”
On the field, Hempfield certainly has plenty of offensive ability, along with players such as seniors Justyne Falbo and Maddy Knizner, but Kalp recognized that Pehrson's pitching will play a big part in how far his team advances in the playoffs.
“Your pitching is a big determining factor,” Kalp said. “We have the potential to score some runs. I don't think you need to throw shutouts, but you certainly can't be giving up four, five, six runs or your chances aren't real good. So your pitching's really going to be the primary determiner of how far you go in the playoffs.”
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.