Sorrentino: Ace of staff electrifying on mound
Lawrence As Amie Riddle glares at Melissa Pratt from the pitcher's mound, the Tonganoxie Braves ace typically knows how many fingers her catcher's displaying for the signal.
Riddle trusts Pratt. There's no reason she shouldn't. Riddle's pitched to the same catcher for nine years. In those nine years, Riddle shook off her catcher's signal only once.
"Mel calls my pitches, but she really doesn't have to," Riddle said. "I know exactly what she's going to call. I don't even have to look."
Pratt was a primary factor in Riddle's effectiveness in last week's AFA National Championship Tournament. However, Riddle's skill set and confidence were the primary factors for her own dominance on the mound.
Two teams had chances to score runs against Riddle last Wednesday. Neither succeeded. Riddle pitched 15 scoreless innings that day. She had 20 strikeout victims.
Riddle announced many of her strikeouts with authority. Her rise pitch is electrifying and many opponents watched the ball smack into Pratt's glove for strike three.
The rise pitch and fastball don't make Riddle a great pitcher, though. If she only threw heat, Riddle wouldn't have the opportunity to pitch next year at Highland Community College. Her change-up and curveball pitches have serious movement on them and make Riddle an elite pitcher.
In fact, I had to refrain from laughing out loud on some of Riddle's change-up strikeouts. One opposing hitter literally swung more than halfway before the ball arrived at the plate. Others swung way too early as well. But who can blame these hitters? They respect Riddle's power so much they try to sit on her fastball and rise ball.
"It's my favorite pitch to strike people out on," Riddle said of the change-up. "As a hitter, too, I know how frustrating it is and it makes you so mad."
It's not easy to differentiate what pitch is coming from Riddle's windup. When she throws the change-up, her windup has the same tempo as when she throws the fastball.
And her pitching arsenal is seven-fold: the rise ball, drop ball, change-up, fastball, off speed, curveball and screwball.
What makes Riddle even more impressive is her durability.
"We've had some tournaments where I've literally thrown six games in a row in one day," Riddle said. "I've woken up the next day and I've not even been able to move. The next day, I was dragging my arm around and picking everything up with my left hand."
Arguably Riddle's best pitching performance came Friday night against the eventual tournament-champion Dakota Fury. Riddle didn't allow a run to the champs and struck out 13.
Tonganoxie didn't score in that game until the bottom of the sixth inning. Riddle was pitching so well I thought to myself in the top half of the last inning: 'This game's over.' Apparently, Riddle's confidence was high before the final inning as well.
"You can't have any doubts," Riddle said about closing the game. "You've gotta go out there thinking, 'This is it right here.' I'm thinking I'm (former University of Arizona pitcher) Jennie Finch and that I can strike out any person in this world. It's not what I really think, I promise, but you have to be confident in that moment."
At the conclusion of the tournament, Riddle's stat line read like this after six games: 39 innings pitched, 52 strikeouts (average of more than eight per game) and only three earned runs.
Riddle's uniform looks like everyone else's, but she has other attire that makes her unique. She sports high red socks, sunglasses, black elbow pads and two red ribbons for her hair. The ribbons serve a dual purpose.
"My old pitching coach used to be (former Kansas University softball player) Serena Settlemeier, and she always wore a blue polka dot ribbon, so I have a Serena ribbon because of her," Riddle said. "This other one is just so I look cute and girly, just in case there's any cute guys watching."
Regardless of who was watching Riddle last week, it was evident she was one of the best pitchers at the tournament.