Wednesday, May 14, 2008

RM’s Hutchinson quiets Magruder bats

Richard Montgomery 10, Magruder 0

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Richard Montgomery sophomore pitcher Kristen Hutchinson occasionally flashed a smile at the bleacher full of her friends in Thursday’s Class 4A West Region first-round clash with Magruder at Welsh Park. She exchanged a few pleasantries while her team was at bat. But that was it.

Otherwise, she was all business, racking up 15 strikeouts en route to the Rockets’ 10-0, six-inning win. The team advanced to play fifth-seeded Northwest Tuesday in the quarterfinals, a game that finished too late for this edition.

Hutchinson’s focus is the biggest difference in her play this season, and has been a huge factor in the Rockets’ success. The No. 4 seed in the region, they moved to 13-4 with Thursday’s win. Hutchinson had a breakout freshman season last year and established herself in the upper echelon of county pitchers, averaging 10 strikeouts per game. But she could be erratic under pressure.

It doesn’t get much bigger than playoff time, and Hutchinson seemed unfazed by the occasion. She tossed in a few wild pitches: She’s got a mean riseball that sometimes rises a little too much.

Magruder (9-8), which only made contact twice in its first 14 at-bats, threatened to cut into Richard Montgomery’s 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Sophomore catcher Ali Cohen connected for the Colonels’ only hit of the game and advanced to third on a wild pitch. But Hutchinson never got addled; just turned around, got back on the pitching rubber and struck out the next three batters.

In addition to improved concentration, Hutchinson’s arsenal has deepened. She’s gone from three pitches (fastball, dropball, changeup) in 2007 to six this season, adding the riseball, screwball and curveball. And she’s able to use them effectively on command.

‘‘I do a much better job of eliminating the outside factors this year,” Hutchinson said. ‘‘You hear people yelling and laughing and you get nervous. But you just have to see the plate and throw strikes. I got distracted a lot easier last year. I feel more comfortable out there this year; more confidence. And I know my team is behind me and will back me up.”

Richard Montgomery has also taken large strides at the plate. Rockets coach Watson Prather was a little nervous early in 2008. He’d lost the majority of his power hitters from last year and was unsure how this year’s bunch would fare at the plate. But, evident in Thursday’s 17-hit performance, they’ve come around nicely.

‘‘I was concerned about hitting but they’ve proved me wrong,” Prather said. ‘‘And that’s the main thing, getting key hits at key times in the ballgame. You do that at the right time, and you’ll come out on top.”

Magruder entered Thursday’s contest with a chance; the teams played a 14-9 contest won by Richard Montgomery last Tuesday. The Colonels didn’t hit well enough Thursday, though. And though they’ve improved their own defensive efforts, Richard Montgomery just hit its spots well. Hutchinson and shortstop Shelby Riley each connected on a home run.

Despite its disappointment with Thursday’s performance, Magruder took a step in the right direction in 2008. It finished above .500, which it failed to do the previous three years.

‘‘[Hutchinson] is an extremely talented pitcher and she’s gotten a lot better since last year,” Magruder coach Ed Henrickson said. ‘‘Our girls didn’t make the right adjustments. She had them intimidated. It was kind of frustrating with the season we had to get Richard Montgomery in the first round but we worked hard this year and focused on the things we had to focus on.”