At the end of the 2015 softball season, Webster University had its highest earned run average (ERA) in school history.
The Gorloks had a cumulative ERA of 7.43. So far in the 2016 season, the team has an ERA of 6.00. The lower score translates as the team allowed one and a half less runs.
Tessa Johanning, Paige Prather and A.J. Spriggs are three pitchers on the softball team who have lowered their ERAs this season. Prather has seen the most dramatic drop in her record; her ERA has dropped from 6.93 last season to 3.62 this season.
Head coach Chris Eaton and the Gorlok pitching staff have credited the improvement in defense for one of the reasons why pitching has also improved.
Second year starter Johanning said the team is close to turning it around and that their record does not show how well the team has played.
“We have played a lot of games that are one-run ball games where we’re losing by one or winning by one. So there’s a lot of close games, and our record doesn’t really show that,” Johanning said.
Spriggs, a junior, currently leads the team with 62.1 innings pitched and 34 strikeouts. In her previous two seasons, Spriggs was second in innings pitched. Spriggs also recorded her career best ERA of her three year career at Webster this season.
Spriggs has a fastball, change-up, curveball and screwball in her pitch arsenal that she said she learned from her father.
“Growing up, my dad really worked with me to hit my spots. So, I definitely feel that I can paint the corners inside or outside,” Spriggs said.
Spriggs’ teammates agree that she has the most control on the team.
“A.J.’s more of the consistent strike thrower,” Johanning said.
Thornley pitched in only three games during her freshman season. This season, coming off offseason rotator cuff surgery, Thornley has appeared in 11 games as a starter and reliever and has recorded 9.1 more innings than last season.
Thornley has six different pitches in her repertoire, but says it is her breaking pitches that have been most effective this season.
“Predominantly, I stick with the curve and screw because they have the most spin,” Thornley said. “I try to stay away from the fastball because it’s not as fast as I would like it to be.”
Johanning, a sophomore, came to Webster as a two time district champion and a St. Louis Post-Dispatch selection in high school. Johanning throws four pitches, her screwball being her best pitch. She said she also has a change-up, which she uses to keep hitters off-balance.
For this season, Johanning has a record of 2-4 in eight starts and one relief appearance.
Eaton said his biggest concern with the pitching staff was walks, which he said lead to unnecessary runs for the opposing team, something Johanning said she needs to improve upon.
“I’m not a strike pitcher. I’m more of a junk, kind of a movement type pitcher,” Johanning said. “You really need to throw strikes, and that’s where I faulted. I have 12 walks. That’s what we’re trying to fix right now.”
Prather comes into the game strictly as a reliever. She has pitched 19.1 innings in eight games. Eaton often puts Prather in to get out of jams, something she is comfortable with.
“Strictly relief,” Johanning said. “That’s the way she likes it. She’s got a lot of movement and she throws batters off as well.”
The Gorloks started their season with a 1-7 record over spring break. Since, the team’s record is 6-8 and are currently on a two game winning streak. Webster currently is in sixth place in the SLIAC conference standings.