Young pitchers ready to knock down competition

Sophomore pitcher Taylor Stroud practices throwing her effective
variety of off-speed pitches.


Sophomore pitcher Taylor Stroud practices throwing her effective variety of off-speed pitches.

State Hornet Staff

Sacramento State sophomore Taylor Stroud and freshman Caitlin Brooks have taken similar paths in their softball playing career thus far. Both pitchers started playing at a young age, traveled on club teams and have seen success on the high school level.

Now, as they have entered the world of Division I softball, they will have something else in common. The two underclassmen are now part of the youngest starting pitching staff Sac State head coach Kathy Strahan has assembled in her 20 years of coaching.

“They are very young, so they are going to get experience early,” Strahan said. “Longevity is going to be really nice to have down the road.”

But with the upside of their talent on the mound, their coach knows Division I softball is much different than their prior teams.

“You always think of freshmen trying to make the transition and it is a big step up,” Strahan said. “There are some bumps and bruises figuratively along the way.”

Stroud experienced those bumps and bruises as a freshman last season, posting an 8-11 record but quickly dusted herself off as she finished with a 2.52 ERA and led her team with 17 starts, 12 complete games, four shutouts and 67 strikeouts in 130 2/3 innings pitched.

As a leader of the pitching staff, Stroud had to make the transition from a first-year player to a leader in a period of nine months.

Being forced in the spotlight, she said she hardly felt pressure because of good team chemistry.

“I knew if I was having a rough game, any of the other pitchers could come in and pick me up,” she said.

Stroud put her name into the Sac State record books when she pitched the school’s first no-hitter since 2006 on April 9 against the University of San Diego.

Whether she struck out six or gave up eight earned runs last season, she looks to improve and learn from her experiences.

“Last season, I learned a lot about the speed of the game,” Stroud said. “The game is a lot faster than high school was and because you play four games in a week and you have to learn to come back the next day prepared.”

She also has been working on some mechanical changes for her sophomore season.

“I’ve been trying to work on all my pitches to perfect them,” Stroud said. “I want to get my fastball low at the knees, which can bring an inside pitch to the right-handed hitters to help throw them off with my outside slow stuff.”

Brooks comes after playing with the California Grapettes travel team this past summer. It was the first time she pitched competitively since spring 2010.

After injuring her foot on the basketball court, she kept playing on it and said doctors misdiagnosed her injury before finding out it was fractured. She was forced to sit out her entire senior season.

The year prior as a junior at Escalon High School, however, she finished with a 26-2 record, a 0.11 ERA and 390 strikeouts to lead all California high school pitchers.

“She is a great overall player on and off the field. All the other players looked up to her,” said Escalon High School softball coach Dianne Teixeira. “You could always rely on Caitlin. She is a great role model.”

Even though she was sidelined, her coach said she never gave up on her teammates.

“She was there every day helping out,” Teixeira said. “She became our third coach.”

As the injuries have slowly started to heal, Brooks now focuses her attention to a new chapter at Sac State.

“It definitely has a toll on my foot, but I just have to get ready for this season,” Brooks said. “The main part I’ve been focusing on is preparing myself mentally. .0I can’t get too down on myself because batters are going to get you once in awhile.”

In the short amount of time both have been on the team, senior catcher Marissa Navarro has seen both pitchers progress in their playing careers.

“Being a freshmen is an eye opener coming in to D-I softball and I’ve seen both Taylor and Caitlin come in and blow games away,” Navarro said. “I’ve seen them progress from the beginning.”

Strahan looks toward the new season where her team is coming off a 20-24 record and finishing third in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.

Along with senior pitcher Shelby Voelz, she said her two underclassmen pitchers bring two different styles of pitching to her rotation.

“Taylor changes and mixes speeds and is effective with her big sweeping curveball while Caitlin has more speed,” Strahan said. “Both are very talented and their futures are very bright and I think they will be impactive right away.”

Ryan Kuhn can be reached at @rskuhn