Mum's the word at Southside'|Mumford tabbed area’s top pitcher

Published 11:56 pm Saturday, June 19, 2010

By By BRIAN HAINES, Sports Writer
CHOCOWINITY – Southside’s tradition of strong pitching was extended another chapter this year as soon as freshman sensation Savannah Mumford stepped on the mound for the Seahawks’ season opener.
From Gabby Cilluffo, who dominated for three seasons, to Emily Smith who was an ace last season, the torch has been passed along and is now firmly in the grasp of Mumford.
Mumford should have no problems carrying the flame for the Seahawks. Armed with a fastball that crosses the plate at roughly 60 MPH, she seems perfectly qualified to handle the heat.
The Southside rookie burst on to the scene in 2010, and dominated one of the best 1-A conferences around, disarming Four Rivers hitters with any one of her five deadly pitches.
On any given count, Mumford can strike with a curve, change-up, screw ball, drop ball or that oh-so-deadly fastball.
That repertoire of pitches allowed the freshman to rack up an 18-5 record and lead her team to its third straight conference title and make it all the way to the Sectional Round of the 1-A playoffs.. Mumford’s speed and accuracy helped her to fan 167 batters on the year, while issuing a mere 33 base on balls. On top of that, the fastball-firing freshman finished the season with a minuscule .83 earned run average.
In the Four Rivers Conference every lineup has at least a few good hitters, most have several, but night after night Mumford was lights out. Needless to say, the decision to name her the Washington Daily News Pitcher of the Year was made almost as quick as one of her mitt-pounding fastballs.
Southside coach John Lohman said that, that pitch is the biggest reason the freshman is on the fast track to success.
“Really (the reason why batters can’t hit her) is her speed,” Lohman said. “Girls that don’t play a truckload of softball aren’t going to be able to catch up to 60 MPH, and if they do hit it, they are going to mis-hit it.”
Aside from the heat, and just as important, is Mumford’s ability to spot her pitches and set up batters.
“She keeps hitters off balance,” Lohman said. “They see outside, outside, outside, then all of a sudden they see a 60-MPH fastball that is a strike if you don’t swing at it. We get a lot of girls jammed up, or hitting weak little flies in the infield.”
Mumford said it is critical to attack hitters early.
“When I face a hitter I just try to get ahead in the count,” Mumford said. “It’s really important to get a first-pitch strike because that sets the tone.”
Once their behind, hitters know they are going to see her rise ball. Or will they? Conferences coaches have credited Mumford for having a devastating riser, but both Lohman and Mumford say she doesn’t exactly throw one.
“I don’t think it’s a true rise ball, it’s more like a high fastball,” Lohman said. “The thing is half way to the plate at 60 MPH it looks like a meatball about belt-high; that’s when you have to make a decision to swing. When they get about a third of the way through their swing they realize ‘I’m not going to be able to hit this thing’ because its at their neck.”
Mumford says when she throws the pitch she does not use a rise ball grip, but tends to throw it with a fastball or screw ball grip. Some how, the pitch has extraordinary late bit, like a Mariano Rivera cutter, only upwards.
The rise ball has attributed greatly to Mumford’s rise, but so has her mental toughness. In the final week of the season the Seahawks needed wins over Williamston, which finished fourth in the state, and Northside, which placed third in the conference, in order for Southside to win its third straight conference title.
The freshman calmly disarmed both, holding the two heavy-hitting teams to a combined five runs to lock down the crown.
Lohman said her big-game ability is uncanny.
“I have never seen a freshman pitch like that at my school,” Lohman said. “There might be a girl who has done it elsewhere, but I’ve never seen it before.”