Brandon Walker has approached the batter’s box. But will he swing at one of those screwballs or curveballs Kayla Smith throws?
“No way,” said Walker, the White River High School fastpitch coach. “She’d probably make me look bad.”
Smith has owned the circle at White River the past four years. She was named Class 2A South Puget Sound League pitcher of the year for the third time Wednesday night because of her ability to methodically attacks hitters with an arsenal of pitches that dive, cut or drop.
Smith, who is 5-foot-4 and about 120 pounds, used to throw four pitches. Now it’s three — change-up, curveball and screwball. Her fastball is now strictly for batting practice.
“Fastballs don’t have movement,” Smith said.
Her other three pitches move plenty.
Change-up: Smith’s change-up has changed. She said she’s worked with her pitching coach, Mark Anderton (also her club coach for the Washington Acers) the past two years on her new grip. It has a backspin and is about 10 mph slower than her curveball and screwball.
“We usually try to go away with it and make them chase it,” said White River sophomore catcher Ashley Long, who calls all of the pitches. “She throws that pitch for a strike sometimes, but it’s usually to make them swing.”
Curveball: It rotates clockwise and tails more to the left than it curves. Smith uses it to bust inside on left-handed hitters and hit the outside corner against righties.
Screwball: It’s the opposite of the curveball. It rotates counterclockwise and tails away from left-handed hitters, while darting inside on righties.
“I just hold it with the tips of my fingers,” Smith said. “The curve is more like releasing it toward your front hip and the screw(ball) you are releasing away from your front hip.”
It’s one thing to throw them. It’s another knowing which to use when.
Smith and Long prepare for opposing hitters like it’s going to be on the SAT.
They said they look at where the batter is standing in the box, what their swing looks like, their body language, even their body type.
If a right-hander is crowding the plate, bust a screwball on the inside corner. Are they at the back of the batter’s box? Make them reach for a change-up.
“She knows that she can throw strikes and she will throw strikes,” Long said. “I can pretty much call anything and she will get it over the plate. She is very, very good at location.”
And Smith works fast. As soon as the batter is in the box, she’s in her windup. When the batter steps out of the box, she then studies the on-deck hitter.
It’s like she’s working a step ahead.
“You’ll pitch and you can watch (the on-deck) hitter take a dry cut,” Smith said.
“But you’re really watching to see how they handle themselves when they step into the box. Do they look like they are scared? … It’s all just off of their body language.”
Her knowledge comes from years of playing experience. She is headed to Central Washington University and hopes to play for the Wildcats softball team. She eventually wants to be a coach — not that she hasn’t tried already.
“She’ll tell me what the lineup should be sometimes,” Walker said. “She means well. She’s not trying to take my job.”
Taking her up on her suggestions is a different story.
“I’ll listen. I just don’t know how much I’m listening,” Walker said, laughing.
In the past two weeks, White River in the past two weeks beat defending 2A SPSL champion Fife, then beat Orting to clinch this year’s league title, then knocked off previously unbeaten Enumclaw, an SPSL 3A team, then toppled a pair of 3A teams in Sumner and Auburn Mountainview (neither scored a run).
Smith is 14-1 this season with a 1.01 ERA and 120 strikeouts in 76 innings. The Hornets play in the West Central District tournament against Bremerton at 10 a.m. Friday at Sprinker.
“I always knew that because I wasn’t as big as everyone else, I had to rely on my movement rather than how fast I pitch,” said Smith, who was named a prom princess this year.
But Walker said that Smith’s ability extends well beyond what pitches she can throw.
“She’s not coming out (of the game). She wants to stay in,” Walker said. “I just have to say, ‘You’re out,’ and she takes it. But unless she’s thrown 150 to 200 pitches, she’s going to stay out there, and I trust her to stay out there. She’s a competitor.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677