Pam Pack’s playoff aspirations ride on right arm of Hutchins

Published 12:23 pm Friday, April 10, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS BRING THE HEAT: With no regular pitchers active on the roster, Washington ace Haley Hutchins will have to carry the Pam Pack through the final stretch of regular season.

BRING THE HEAT: With no regular pitchers active on the roster, Washington ace Haley Hutchins will have to carry the Pam Pack through the final stretch of regular season.

The clockwise, underhand toss of a softball pitcher is a natural motion, one that gives seasoned hurlers the ability to pitch upwards of 400, even 500 pitches a week. As a result, across most major organized softball leagues, including the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, there are few limits on how many innings or pitches a player can throw.

Last season, the Washington softball team had options — the shutdown, power arm of Haley Hutchins and the command of up-and-coming freshman Hailey Harris. But during the fall volleyball season, that mix-and-match luxury was taken away after Harris suffered a shoulder injury, which ended her sophomore season before it even began.

Now, the fate of the Pam Pack is reliant on the health and production of Hutchins, a senior who has dazzled in her four seasons on varsity.

“We’re going to go as far as Haley can go,” said head coach Doug Whitehead. “She is just, at times, dominating over opposing teams. And when people hit her, they don’t necessarily hit her hard. Her strikeouts give relief to the defense. We’re depending on her to carry the load and (have our team) win out for the year.”

Despite the loss of a few key offensive pieces in the offseason like Adriana Tyson and Style McKissick, along with Harris on the mound, the Washington lineup has remained consistent and the team’s 8-2 (3-1 Eastern Plains) record mirrors that of last season. So far, Hutchins has recorded a 1.19 ERA and 94 strikeouts, second most in the Eastern Plains Conference, pitching 59 of the team’s 61 innings — the truest definition of workhorse.

Her pitch selection is deeper, velocity up and location improved, the product, Whitesaid said, of an offseason fully dedicated to improving her craft and working with assistant coach Wendy Godley.

During games, Godley sits on a bucket at the edge of the dugout and delicately relays signs to catcher Allison Brantley, who instructs Hutchins on what pitch to throw and where to throw it. With an arsenal that ranges anywhere from four to six pitches on any given day, batters are commonly late and headed back to the dugout after three, poorly timed hacks.

“It’s one of those things that batters just don’t know what to expect when they come up,” Whitehead said. “There have been a few that have hit her hard, there just hasn’t been many. Other than that she’s been dominating. At lot of times, she takes the bat right out of the batter’s hands.”

“She has a pitcher’s mentality. It’s one of the great things about her. Sometimes we’ll give singles from the dugout and she’ll call us off because she knows what’s working on a given night. She can look at the batter in the box and basically determine what she needs to do.”

Along with the help of a personal trainer, Hutchins is continuously perfecting her regiment and polishing her repertoire. And the years of hard work have finally paid off.

In February, Hutchins and teammate Haley Wright, who is currently batting .562 with two home runs and 12 RBIs, committed to the Pitt County Community College softball team.

But outside of the pitcher’s circle, Hutchins has also matured, becoming more vocal in the dugout and accepting all the pressure that comes with being that sink-or-swim dynamic.

“She is representing Washington High School well in just the way she carries herself — good student, good athlete, good friend,” Whitehead said. “She’s one of those all-around good people you want to have with any program.”

Eight critical regular season games remain for the Pam Pack, which currently sits a game behind undefeated Beddingfield in the conference.

After last season’s disappointing and somewhat controversial loss to Bunn in the second round of the 2-A NCHSAA playoffs, anything less than an eastern regional championship appearance would be considered an underachievement for a Washington team looking to ride the hot hand of Hutchins through the final weeks.

The Pam Pack will seek its fourth win in a row when it takes on conference foe North Johnston on Tuesday in Kenly.