Iowa State’s pitching shines in first action of the season

Pitcher Brianna Weilbacher on Feb. 12, 2016. 

Sean Sears

It was an exciting weekend at the Bergstrom Indoor Facilities, with the Cyclone Invitational Tournament kicking off the 2016 Iowa State softball season.

The indoor softball game varies slightly from the game played outdoors with very intricate rules for where the ball hit.

Certain spots on the wall or ceiling are considered foul, automatic outs, ground-rule doubles, ground-rule home runs, or even a live ball. This led to a few impressive ricochet-line-drives for outs and some very confused coaches, players, fans and even reporters.

It was a different type of sports environment, but one that the Cyclones thrived in as they came out of the weekend with a 5-1 record.

ISU impressed all weekend, especially Saturday winning both its games by mercy rule, but the Cyclones won most of their games with outstanding pitching performances. Which, looking back historically, is not a common occurrence.

The Cyclones pitchers currently have a team ERA of 1.50 and only gave up 10 total runs on the entire weekend, seven of them coming Friday night against Eastern Illinois. 

The team also lost its only returning pitcher on Friday, when Brianna Weilbacher was struck in the head by a line drive. She would walk off the field under her own power, but the team had to turn to unproven freshman Emma Hylen and Savannah Sanders, who had just pitched in the game prior.

The two combined to give up 6 runs in relief, but their pitching in key moments allowed the Cyclones to come from behind and beat the Panthers 8-7 in extra innings. Head coach Gemeinhardt-Cesler was impressed with the two freshmen as they faced adversity early in their Cyclone careers.

“I thought Emma did a great job keeping us in the game,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said. “Then Savannah to come in and keep on throwing after she had already threw some in the earlier game. We just continue to get better and walking away saying ‘you know, it didn’t have to go this way’ and we found a way to win.”

With great pitching performances all weekend, Sanders might have had the most impressive one this Sunday against Eastern Illinois. Sanders held EIU to one run over 6 innings while only allowing 5 hits with 10 strikeouts. This coming only two days after the Panthers scored 7 runs on the Cyclones. 

The freshman never faltered, loading the base up three different times, walking a total of seven batters, and having runners in scoring position in virtually every inning. She put herself in jams all game but the right handed pitcher was able to stay composed in the circle and make pitches.

“I know that when it comes down to it, I want the ball in my hand insituations like that.” Sanders said

Sanders credited coach Weil-Miller for her competitive practices that prepared her for the stressful moments in Sunday’s games. It was her ability to stay calm and execute that kept the Panthers from scoring runs that game. She was messy at times, but when she needed a big out or strike, she always delivered.

The pitching is not what is expected to carry this team, but during a weekend when the top hitters did not consistently produce, Gemeinhardt-Cesler stressed how helpful it is to have a true pitching staff.

“It’s so hard to describe how important [a pitching staff] is as we go on,” Gemeinhardt-Cesler said. “Even now you’re playing the same teams twice, and in Big 12 you’re playing the same teams 3 times, so just to have the ability of having different looks to keep hitters off balance was absolutely fantastic.”