During the spring season, there has been little question as to who will step up on the mound for the softball team.
Sophomore pitchers Sam Bender and Jillian Olmstead have been the dominant pitching forces for the South Hill squad this season. The two have picked up every decision this season and have pitched a combined 246 out of 250 innings played by the Bombers. The Blue and Gold have relied primarily on just two arms to carry the load in the pitcher’s circle, but Bender says this has not fazed her.
“It is hard at times in the season,” she said. “Sometimes I feel tired after the game, but during the game, coaches tell me just to stay the course, and that’s what I think of on the mound.”
As the season has progressed, Bender and Olmstead have been designated for specific game assignments. Bender has started 28 out of 38 games while Olmstead has relieved Bender on 21 occasions to finish out the game. Olmstead is ranked in the top 10 in Division III in saves this season with six.
Head Coach Deb Pallozzi said having Olmstead pitch in later innings has worked for the Bombers in their most recent stretch, winning 20 of their last 21 games.
“Jill comes in really well in a relief situation, and she’s become really comfortable with that,” Pallozzi said. “Sometimes she’s more comfortable with that than actually starting.”
Even though she pitches in the final innings, Olmstead is second on the Bombers with 13 wins due in part to the offense’s ability to score late runs this season. The Bombers have scored 40 of their 209 runs in the sixth inning or later.
One of the duo’s brightest moments came in the Blue and Gold’s 4-3 win against Division I Cornell University last Thursday. Bender allowed three runs early in the game, but Olmstead was able to bear down and shut out the Big Red during the final two innings of the game. Bender said the victory has helped boost the team’s spirit as the regular season concludes.
“We were on Cloud Nine after that victory,” she said. “And that win sparked our team and has helped us feel confident with whomever we face down the road.”
Bender and Olmstead have also had success against powerful teams within the Empire 8 Conference, including when they held the Alfred University Saxons, a team who ranks second in team batting average, to only one run in a doubleheader sweep April 25.
During last season’s conference championship and national tournament, Olmstead pitched a combined 11 1/3 innings, allowing only one earned run on five hits with eight strikeouts to earn the save. Olmstead said that experience will help her confidence in playoff appearances and keep her relaxed in tight situations.
“That’s been my role as the closer — to shut the door on the opposing team and not give them a chance,” she said. “I learned from last year how to adjust to opposing batters.”
The Bombers posted a perfect 12—0 record in the Empire 8 this season and will host the conference tournament as the top seed after the regular season concludes. Bender said playing on Kostrinsky Field will be a huge advantage while she’s in the pitcher’s circle.
“We’ve played well at home all season, and playing where we are most comfortable will give us the most confidence to win the tournament on our home field,” she said.