Wildcats take hits in stride against Bruins

West Ranch senior Jenna Rorick makes contact in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals against Woodrow Wilson High School at West Ranch Tuesday afternoon. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Sara Olson was hit by a pitch in her first at-bat in West Ranch softball’s game against Wilson of Long Beach on Tuesday at West Ranch.

The audible thud of the ball on her arm is enough to make a casual spectator cringe, but in softball, it’s just part of the game.

“You can avoid it if you want to,” Olson said. “I don’t like to avoid it. If it’s coming at me I just turn on it.”

Olson’s HBP (hit by pitch) not only got her on base, but it led to a run later in the inning when Jenna Rorick drove her in with a single. Delaney Bevan was also hit by a pitch to move Gianna Lombardi to second base. Julie Mennuti hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Lombardi.

The two runs were crucial for the Wildcats, who rode the early advantage to a 9-4 win over the Bruins in the CIF-Southern Section Division 3 semifinals.

“Us getting runners on base really helped the offense because everyone has confidence and it really just keeps the lineup going,” Olson said. “So when we get on base, we’re going to score for sure.”

There were two HBPs in the first inning alone and four that were counted by the umpire in the entire game. A handful of other players were hit by the ball, but the action was not counted as an HBP.

The Wildcats realized early that Wilson pitcher Hailey Houston was pitching on the inside, almost directly at the batters’ arms. So naturally, batters were bound to be hit with pitches.

“She’s throwing pitches in a certain position whether it’s inside or outside depending if it’s a right-hand or left-hand batter,” said Cats coach Phil Giarrizzo. “What happened there, now we look for that pitch, we strategize.”

The sound of a softball hitting a human being is audible, but according to the Wildcats, its less painful than it looks. Although a hit to Olson’s scapula limited her arm movement in a previous game and Bevan took one to the knee that nearly blew it out in another game.

Players also wear elbow shields to soften the blow.

“You can take it when you need to and it’ll help the team in the long run,” Bevan said. “If I get hit by a pitch, I know my teammates are going to hit me and I’ll take it for the team gladly so we can get on base and score runs.”

Rorick has enhanced judgment when it comes to sensing if she’s about to be hit by a pitch since she herself is a pitcher.

“Like halfway to home plate,” she said of when she knows. “I can see our of the pitcher’s hand where the pitch location is going to be, but halfway to home plate you just know. And you turn.”

As long as a hitter is in the batter’s box and is hit with the ball, it counts. If the hitter is outside, it’s ruled a dead ball. As a pitcher, Rorick is well aware of this and how to handle the situation mentally from the circle when it happens.

“Just move on to the next batter,” she said. “Forget about what just happened, focus on the next batter and try not to hit her.”

As West Ranch continues to the Division 3 championships, which the date and time of are still to be decided, the team is confident in their ability to not just get on base, but bring in runners with the hitting power they’ve been bringing throughout the playoffs.

“This game, nine more runs and probably at least a dozen or more hits, I can’t tell you right now what it is, but this is playoffs,” Giarrizzo said. “We’re hitting like crazy, so that’s what doing it for us.”

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