This Freshman Battery is Quite Energizing to Watch

There are many relationships in life that are hard to explain. Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. David Copperfield and Claudia Schiffer. Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts. But perhaps the most puzzling, complex and dysfunctional of all relationships to understand is that between a pitcher and catcher.

The best repore usually comes between those who have been working together for years – those who have been through the battles and know who has to be pitched low and away, or someone who has numerous college innings under their belt.

In the case of pitcher Meghan Allman and catcher Jillian Sandoval, neither of the aforementioned qualities applied – they are both freshmen.

College softball programs usually depend on the presence of upperclassmen to guide them through a 60-game schedule. St. John’s is no exception – the 16-player roster contains eight seniors and four juniors.

But it has been the play of the most inexperienced members of the squad that has made the biggest impression – an impression that almost never saw the field – on two levels.

Flashback to their senior year of high school. Recruiters were visiting them on a regular basis. Sandoval wanted to sign early, while Allman was content to wait.

Sandoval made her visit to St. John’s with Carrie Wisen, a pitcher she had caught in high school. Wisen chose to play for Notre Dame, but SJU became Sandoval’s choice.

Allman was ready to accept a full ride to play for Oregon. But just as she was about to let the coach know her intentions, the coach called her. Someone had committed before Allman, meaning the scholarship was no longer available.

Oregon’s loss would be the Red Storm’s gain, and since Head Coach Melody Cope was looking for a pitcher after Wisen decided to play elsewhere, Allman became a perfect fit.

Upon arrival, both Allman and Sandoval had others ahead of them on the depth chart.

Courtney Fitzgerald was supposed to be the team ace, and only sidelined a few weeks with a wrist injury. Allman was only a temporary stopgap until Fitzgerald was healthy. Fitzgerald has yet to dress.

In Sandoval’s case, Lisa Tropea was entrenched behind the plate, leaving Sandoval to rotate between catcher, third base and the bench. But a season-ending injury five games into the season opened up a spot in the line-up, a spot Sandoval has stayed all season long.

A freshman pitching-catching combo is a very rare sight, simply because of the lack of experience it offers. And when the Johnnies got off to an 0-7 start, both members of the battery felt early season jitters.

Since those first seven games, these rookies are playing like experienced veterans, leading the Red Storm to victory and setting school records along the way.

Of course, it takes a lot for a pitcher to get to know and feel comfortable with her catcher, and this duo was no exception. Now as the season winds down, a look back has shown the marked improvement.

“If I’m not comfortable with the person that’s catching me,” Allman said, “I’m not going to be comfortable in a game and comfortable in trusting her that she knows what she’s doing. I have to trust her, that she’s thinking and knows what’s going on.”

Sandoval leads the Red Storm in batting average; her numbers certainly don’t show any adjustment problems. In addition to her .293 average, she leads the team in hits (41), and is tied for the lead in walks (13).

While her offensive ability has been superb, her prowess behind the plate has surpassed even Allman’s expectations. “She puts in that extra effort,” said Allman. “I can throw whatever I want. With a runner on third I can throw a ball that bounces and she’s going to stop it. You only get better at calling games by calling more games.”

Sandoval calls every pitch of every game, and rarely do the two disagree. In the latest of Allman’s no-hitters, there was ONE pitch that was shaken off. Out of 90. “It’s just being on the same page. Meghan can shake me off any time she wants,” Sandoval said. “You have to trust that both of you know the situation.”

The two are so well connected, that when Sandoval hits against her teammate in batting practice, she knows what pitch is coming most of the time, which, considering that Allman has six different pitches and can throw any one at any time, is downright amazing.

Of course, Sandoval’s confidence has helped Allman turn up her performances in the past month or so, with one amazing outing after the other.

However, when Allman has the occasional bad game, Sandoval makes sure everyone knows where the blame lies. “I don’t call the wrong pitches,” Sandoval said with a smile. “I don’t throw the ball.”

Take a look at the numbers: In her 45 starts this season, Allman has thrown three no-hitters, two one-hitters, one two-hitters, five three-hitters and four four-hitters. She has thrown 11 shutouts, including a stretch where she blanked four opponents in a row. With eight games remaining, she has already set the single season St. John’s records for innings pitched (296.0), strikeouts (237), shutouts (11), appearances (46), starts (45), complete games (38) and wins (19). The only single-season SJU record she does not hold is for lowest earned run average.

With four Big East games remaining, she has already set the conference record for innings (112.1), is second in complete games (14) and fourth in strikeouts (87).

So as the season comes to a close and the Red Storm fight for a spot in the Big East Tournament, Allman and Sandoval will leading their teammates into battle.

And to think, they still have three seasons left.

Three seasons to continue a wonderful and prosperous relationship.

Jason Della Rosa is a junior journalism major who can’t pitch or catch, so he gets put in the outfield. Send any comments to [email protected]