Softballs Traina comes through in clutch
TUSCALOOSA | Every great athlete has a defining moment. For Jackie Traina, it came last Friday when she came out of the bullpen to retire 11 batters in order to lead the University of Alabama softball team past Stanford in the Tuscaloosa Super Regional.
"That," Crimson Tide coach Patrick Murphy beamed, "is what I recruited her for."
Traina, a freshman from Naples, Fla., came to Alabama as one of the nation's most highly-recruited prospects. She goes to the Women's College World Series in Oklahoma City as one of the country's most feared pitchers, especially after clocking as high as 74 mph on the radar gun against Stanford.
Anything above 70 mph for a softball pitcher is rarefied territory, with a pitch that speed from 43 feet giving a batter the same reaction time as a major league baseball player facing a 100 mph fastball. According to the eFastball.com website, Traina's 74 mph is the equivalent of a 104 mph baseball pitch.
That Traina's best stuff came at such a crucial moment for an Alabama team in a win-or-go-home game doesn't surprise the rookie.
"The bigger the game, I feel like I rise to the occasion," Traina said. "It pumps you up. It makes you want to do really, really good."
If Traina's pitch speed wasn't eye-opening enough, the fact that she struck out Stanford's Ashley Hansen was. Hansen came into the game as a top-three USA Softball Player of the Year finalist with a batting average above .500. She had only struck out four times all year. Traina sat her down swinging on just four pitches.
"Her stuff was really moving the other night," Murphy said, "better than it was all year."
Said Traina, "I knew she was good. I knew I had to make my best pitches to get her out. I think I got her on a drop curve."
Traina's first postseason appearance a weekend earlier was equally impressive, but not against the same level of opposition. She threw a five-inning no-hitter against Jackson State in Alabama's home regional, missing a perfect game only because of a UA error, striking out nine batters. She needed just 56 pitches.
"I thought that was a sign she can handle it," Murphy said.
Traina is 19-5 with a 1.28 earned-run average. She has struck out 183 batters in 147 2/3 innings, and has been able to spend her first season in college as an understudy to two-time Southeastern Conference Pitcher of the Year Kelsi Dunne, a UA senior. Dunne has been happy to provide counsel.
"I know my role as a senior pitcher is to help her along in her mental game," Dunne said, "because pitching at this level is very mental. Her and I have had some talks and she's done very well. She's been working very, very hard lately on trying to improve on some small mistakes that all pitchers make.
"She's just very competitive, and when she's put out in that circle she's going to go out there and compete and give it her best. That's what she's been doing."
In high school, Traina was a four-time All-State performer, a three-time All-American and a state player of the year honoree. She went 85-8 with a 0.23 ERA, striking out 1,089 batters. Her high school teammate, Ryan Iamurri, also an Alabama freshman, knows better than anybody what Traina can do.
"She plays in full capacity all the time," Iamurri said. "She's not going to be nervous, and if she is she doesn't show it."
Murphy, too, likes that demeanor. He's counting on it in Oklahoma City.
"She's a freshman, and maybe the best thing is she doesn't know any better," Murphy said.
If Alabama wins its opening game Thursday against Cal, it will move into an evening slot. That, Iamurri said, is when Traina really comes alive.
"Something about being under the lights, she just does so well," Iamurri said. "When it's night and the lights are on you and 3,000 fans are cheering for you, I think she likes that best."
Traina doesn't spend a lot of time worrying about such things.
"I just keep a routine at practice," she said. "I don't think about it before it happens.
"You can bring the confidence with you from the last game. When you have confidence, you can make your pitches work. It's going to be exciting."
Reach Tommy Deas at email@example.com or at 205-722-0224.