Sehome softball’s Mallory Kruzich has established herself as one of the top pitchers in the Northwest Conference. Her mix of offspeed stuff with the ability to perform in high-pressure situations makes it look like she’s been pitching forever.
Only she hasn’t.
In one summer league season her freshman year, Mariners coach Jim Emerson needed an arm to fill the circle. Kruzich volunteered.
“I kind of worked down the line when I was a freshman and thought, ‘We have a junior pitcher that’s graduating soon. We’ll need someone else,’” Kruzich said in a phone interview.
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So Kruzich started working on her pitching behind the scenes. By the time her junior year came around, she was ready to pitch.
The Mariners needed her, desperately. She pitched all of Sehome’s games that season — a workload that might be a burden for many.
For Kruzich, it was a blessing.
“I actually really think it helped last year pitching every game,” Kruzich said. “It got me more ready for this year.”
This is the year that counted. The year where the seven seniors who made state their freshman years could get back to the tourney.
Behind Kruzich, they accomplished that goal and the Mariners will take on White River in the opening round of the Class 2A State Tournament, which begins on Friday, May 29, at Carlon Park in Selah.
“It feels really great,” Kruzich said. “Our team has been working super hard all year. All the seniors were working hard to get back at it. It just feels great to go to state again.”
It hasn’t been the easiest road for Kruzich this season. She’s had her rough outings and she’s had her brilliant outings. The difference this year, though, is she has backup.
While the lion’s share of work has gone to the senior, freshman Carissa McDowell has taken the circle on several occasions.
“If I’m having an off day or get hurt, I have her to back me up and I know the team will still be in good hands,” Kruzich said.
But Emerson stressed early in the year he wanted his senior to be the one who takes the ball in high-intensity games and she needed to be the one in the circle.
Kruzich has delivered.
“She’s had a couple games where we really needed her to step up and she has,” Emerson said in a phone interview. “She’s also had a couple rough outings as every pitcher will, but she’s really come through down the stretch.”
The Mariners will be leaning on her at state and Kruzich hopes to come through yet again.
The goal is to advance to the second day, something that hasn’t happened in Emerson’s 12 years as coach despite five state appearances.
“I’ve tried to stress that we’ve been down this road before. With this group, it’d be a disappointment if we didn’t go over there and play well,” Emerson said.
For the Mariners to advance, though, Kruzich’s changeup and rise ball will have to be working, two pitches she’s really honed over the past couple seasons.
She’ll also have to rely on her defense, which has played tremendously of late.
“I’ve definitely noticed we’ve had a lot of double plays and that really helps. Also our outfield is getting balls they might not have gotten in past years,” Kruzich said. “It gives me relief, because I know they have my back and they are there for me. I don’t have to worry about striking people out.”
If things don’t go well in the circle, Kruzich can take her frustrations out at the plate, somewhere she’s also succeeded in her career at Sehome.
But if Sehome hopes to be playing on Saturday, Kruzich’s bat and arm will have to be firing on all cylinders.
With seven seniors, it’s now or never for the Mariners.
“When you finally get to state, it’s a relief and yet you don’t want to just go there to say we made it,” Emerson said. “I could feel the air being released after Friday’s game. They were really excited. but they have to get back on the horse and do this one more time. That’s not always easy, but special teams find a way.”