Pitching depth compliments premiere offense as St. Olaf keeps rolling
Following an endurance test with a prolonged winter, St. Olaf softball has taken advantage of the recent warm weather, extending its winning streak to ten following a sweep against Gustavus Tuesday afternoon. Two major contributors to this playoff push have been team leaders Emily Carr ’19 and Julie Graf ’20. The former currently leads a a strong, deep Ole offense with a .412 batting average and an eye-popping .1173 OPS while the latter continues to dominate the MIAC on the mound with a 1.36 ERA and 210 strikeouts. Each of those statistics ranks among the conferences top five individual totals, providing St. Olaf standout performances during their pursuit of a conference title. We sat down with both stars to discuss Ole softball’s recent success and their strong friendship both on and off the field.
How has your guys’ relationship evolved during the two years you have known each other, both on and off the field? Has playing pitcher and catcher respectively made an impact in any way?
C: Well, it’s evolved because I’m not catching as much this year. I’m playing shortstop for the most part. That’s been a change, but I think it’s been what the team needs. Hannah Mathis is one of our freshmen and she’s been doing a great job behind the plate, so it’s been really cool watching her develop and do great things for our team.
G: Yeah, with Emily playing shortstop, she’ll come into the pitcher’s circle a lot.
And what does she say?
G: Usually something pretty stupid (laughs). But it makes me laugh, so it’s all good.
C: We always kind of meshed from the beginning anyways, but it was a major help that we were pitching and catching together. It’s important that you have a strong relationship if you’re a pitcher and a catcher, but being best friends outside of that helped. Being a pitcher and catcher helped us become better friends and the fact that we were such good friends helped us be a better combo. Now that I’m not catching anymore, that’s definitely carried over into me playing shortstop. There’s still a really strong connection there and a lot of trust on the field with defense.
G: Yeah, we still have that foundation that we built last year.
When you were playing pitcher and catcher at the same time, how consistently would you say you were on the same page regarding pitch selection?
C: I would say like 95 percent of the time I know what [pitch] she wants. When I don’t know what pitch she wants, half of that time she’ll just do something that’ll work and I’ll be like, ‘OK, you were right.’ The other half of the time it won’t work and I’ll be like ‘haha, that sucks.’ (laughs)
G: Most of it’s just how it feels at the time. If [the pitch call] doesn’t feel like it’s the right one then I’m probably not going to throw it well. But most of the time she trusts me and knows that if I’m shaking her off it’s not because I’m trying to be annoying, it’s because I really feel like a different pitch would be better.
In a hypothetical example, in an 0-2 count what would you often throw for the strikeout pitch, and would you guys agree?
C: Depends on the batter.
G: Yeah, definitely. There’s a few pitches that are my go-to strikeout pitches so it’s just a matter of picking which one to go with at the time.
So, Emily, why the switch from catcher to shortstop this year?
C: I think our team is better with Hannah behind the plate and with me at shortstop. It creates a stronger outfield and infield all-around defensively.
G: To go along with that, we also have a pitching staff this year. So when we switch pitchers, some of them play different positions. Switching everything around [when making a pitching change] would be really complicated, but having her at shortstop is a really good constant that’s always there for the team.
What about your guys’ friendship off the field?
C: We have a very close-knit team in general, and I feel like that’s what makes our team so special. We’re not all hanging out all the time to build team chemistry, we’re hanging out a bunch because we really want to.
G: Yeah, we just genuinely enjoy each others’ company. We have a good time.
C: As far as me and this one [Graf] are concerned, she comes home with me for the holidays because she lives in Washington. I feel like everybody knows we’re pretty close, but that’s just an example.
G: Her family adopted me, basically, so that’s really cool.
Talking about the team, then, what would you say has been the biggest difference maker during your recent ten-game winning streak both as a team and individually?
G: I think everyone’s just stepped up when they needed to. It’s never just one person driving a game, everyone contributes and it could be anyone that gets that game-winning hit. I think everyone is just embracing their roles and playing a really solid game all the way through, keeping our energy up. Lots of good vibes right now.
C: I think we’ve always been a really good hitting team, but we’ve been on a roll lately and hopefully that continues through the season. Like J said, one through nine in our batting lineup is so good. Anytime anybody gets up it’s a difficult out for the other team to have to make. Last night we played Gustavus and we scored the go-ahead run in the last inning. The game-winning hit was by our ninth hitter, Jordan Melz, a straight-shot double in the gap. That can happen with anyone in our lineup, and that’s what makes us so scary.
Julie, you’ve pitched for nearly 140 innings thus far this year, by far the most of any Ole pitcher. What impact does this have on durability?
G: I definitely embrace it. In comparison to last year, it’s definitely a lot fewer innings which is awesome (laughs). Now we have a pitching staff. We’ve found a really good way to mix our styles … we all pitch so differently and we found a great way to balance that, to have someone pitch a few innings here and throw another one there. It’s really good.
C: Yeah, Abby Grismer and Rachel Niederkorn are the two freshmen [on the pitching staff] and they’ve been absolutely killing it. Like we said earlier, everyone knows their role and knows what they have to do, and everyone’s just been executing. That’s been really cool and fun to see.
You laughed it off, but did innings total become a problem towards the end of last year?
G: A little bit. It took its toll for sure, but it’s just really nice this year with what we have and knowing that we’re going to have that going forward too. It’s a lot less pressure knowing that I have other people.
C: Helps to know you don’t have to go pitch 14 innings every time we have a doubleheader.
G: Uh-huh, especially with back-to-back days and approaching the postseason. We all work really well together and compliment each other, so they make me better and I make them better. It’s good stuff.