Armstrong junior Leah Baker did not take pitching seriously until around a year and a half ago.
Baker, who played third base growing up, made the switch as the Falcons were looking for someone to take the mound after graduating its varsity pitchers from last season.
In a short amount of time, Baker feels she has improved drastically on the mound, despite having to shift the way she views the game of softball.
“I think I have improved a lot,” Baker said. “I had to change my entire pitching motion, because before I was pitching just for fun.
“I think I have a lot more confidence out there, because before I was pitching for fun and now they need someone to throw strikes, and I was a third-baseman at heart. Once I made that commitment to pitching I feel I have made a ton of strides forward.”
Baker’s improvement showed during the Falcons’ second game of the season against Minnetonka April 12, as she pitched a no-hitter through six innings before Minnetonka scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to escape with a 3-2 victory.
“I had no idea I was pitching a no-hitter,” Baker said. “When I pitch, there are certain things I think about just to make sure I’m on track.
“I was focusing on staying long and knowing the count to make sure I was getting the team prepped up and ready.”
Despite taking the loss, Baker is proud of how she threw on the mound.
“I feel really good about how I performed today, because I feel it is a big leap from where I was at a year ago, when I wasn’t even the team’s pitcher,” Baker said. “I’m pretty happy with how everything went today.”
Armstrong head softball coach Joe Fittante was also impressed with his pitcher.
“She is doing a great job,” Fittante said. “She’s learning as she goes, and she has the perfect temperament.
“I know she will continue to improve as we move forward.”
The Armstrong offense gave Baker a 2-0 lead as Mary Isaak hit an RBI triple and Kelly O’Keefe knocked her in with an RBI single in the third inning.
Minnetonka pitcher Kristy Peka shut down the Armstrong offense after its two-run third inning.
“She threw a rise-ball that threw our girls off-balance,” Fittante said. “They were swinging at the high pitch, but she did a nice job for them today.”
While the Falcons fell to 0-2 with the loss to Minnetonka, the Falcons fell 11-1 to Spring Lake Park in the season opener April 11, Fittante believes his team has continued to improve.
“As I told the girls, our job is to get a little better every day and we were a little better today than we were yesterday,” Fittante said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
“The defense was much better today than it was yesterday, and yesterday it wasn’t that bad,” Fittante added. “There were a couple spots, but much better today.”
The Falcons fell to 0-3 with a 13-0 loss to Anoka April 13. With Armstrong currently on the hunt for its first win, Fittante knows his team must do certain things in order to have its hard work translate into production on the field.
“It’s going to take attention to the little things,” Fittante said. “I talk to the girls about making sure they have attention to detail and making sure we do the little things to win games.
“If we do the little things, we don’t put ourselves in a position where the other team only has to score three runs to beat us. They have to be patient at the plate, they have to work harder up at the plate, and they have to keep grinding and they’ll come around.”
Armstrong will play next against Champlin Park at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, April 20, at Armstrong High School.
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.