If, for some reason, Lawrence High junior pitcher Lauren Massey found herself unable to take the mound during this week’s Class 6A regional softball tournament, it’s hard to imagine the team’s pitching staff recovering.
That’s because Massey is the staff: She’s the starter, the middle reliever, the setup man and the closer for LHS, having pitched every inning of every game for the Lions this season after doing nearly the same as a sophomore a year ago.
Massey’s numbers this season, as you might imagine, are fairly startling: 20 appearances, 20 starts, 112 2⁄3 innings pitched, 1,753 pitches thrown — totals that come as a shock even to the person who amassed them.
“I was filling out a questionnaire (recently) and they wanted my high school stats,” says Massey, who is also batting .333 with four doubles and two triples for the Lions. “And when I looked at them I was like, ‘Oh my goodness; that’s so many pitches.’”
Extensive use of the same pitcher in softball isn’t exactly unprecedented.
Unlike baseball, in which pitchers are limited to one or two extended outings per week, softball pitchers can generally throw more pitches and more innings without seeing much negative effect. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for a standout softball pitcher to start the majority of her team’s games throughout a particular season.
But to pitch every inning of every game is undoubtedly rare.
“It takes a certain level of toughness and confidence to do that,” says Lawrence High coach Reenie Stogsdill, whose fifth-seeded Lions (8-12) will play No. 4 seed Topeka High at 4:15 p.m. Thursday in the opening round of the Class 6A regional tournament.
There are certain benefits, too, that come with being Iron Woman.
She’s developed into a bit of a novelty around the local softball landscape, for one thing. For another, when you’re used to pitching 14 innings a night (during doubleheaders, she pitches two seven-inning games), things like extra innings don’t seem to faze you all that much.
In a meeting with Free State on May 11, for instance, the game stretched 13 innings before LHS scored in the bottom of the 13th to take a 2-1 victory.
“I got an inning off,” Massey joked afterward.
Of course, there are drawbacks, too.
In order to fend off tightness and get herself ready to go, Massey ices her arm nightly during the season, typically falling asleep with an ice pack strapped to her arm, and regularly stops by the trainer to ice it a bit after practice, as well.
What’s more, Stogsdill has to be careful not to overwork the player before games, which means she rarely works on pitching during practices.
And all of this is to say nothing of the mental grind that comes with being your team’s only pitcher.
Massey takes the mound each night knowing that, in large part, her team’s fortunes hinge on how well she performs. Barring injury or any unforeseen developments, her win-loss record this season will be identical to the Lions’ final record, meaning that perhaps no pitcher in the Sunflower League is more closely tied to her team’s successes or failures.
And that kind of impact comes with a good deal of pressure.
“If you’re down, you have to be able to pick yourself up right away,” says Lions catcher Kristen Bell. “She’s the backbone of the team.”
Perhaps most impressive about her marathon season is that Massey appears to have gotten stronger as the spring has progressed.
Since the Lions suffered an eight-game losing streak last month, Massey has gone 6-2, a stretch that has included a pair of shutouts and two victories over chief rival Free State.
This certainly bodes well heading into this week’s regional tournament, where teams have been known to ride a hot pitcher to two victories and a berth in the state tournament.
And Massey, for her part, seems willing and able to put a few more miles on her arm for the good of the team.
“You kind of have to get used to it and get into the groove of it, but now it’s getting easier as we progress,” Massey says. “And now that we’re in the end of the season, I’m getting more prepared for regionals. So I’m ready for those two games. It’s all just an uphill thing — you’ve got to just get into it and keep going.”