Wetumpka’s softball program is attacking opponents with a three-pronged spear from the pitcher’s circle.
Ashley Burgess, Mya Holt and Ella Watson all boast ERAs below 3.10 on the season and have pitched at least 40 innings for the Indians, combining for 178.2 of Wetumpka’s 181.2 innings in 2021.
All three are freshmen.
“They’re talented and they work hard, you just kind of worry about the schedule you play,” Wetumpka head coach Daryl Otwell said. “Are they mentally ready for that type of competition? And all three have done really good this year. It’s been good for our team, good for our program.”
While the three hurlers all took distinct paths to arrive in the spotlight this season, Wetumpka’s 20-10 record speaks to the potential success it could achieve now and in the future with the trio propelling the pitching staff forward.
“We’ve been talking more about pitching and how we all go together,” Burgess said. “It’s just a domino effect. In our conversations, we talk about how far we can go, and we try to build each other’s confidence, keep going and rising.”
Otwell said Burgess, Holt and Watson each performed well enough in preparation for the squad’s 2021 campaign that he couldn’t determine the order in which he’d use their arms.
“All three had such a great offseason, we couldn’t really identify who we felt was one, two or three,” Otwell said.
Of the triumvirate, Holt was the name Otwell said he knew could be a centerpiece for the Indians’ rotation when he took over the program following the 2019 season.
Holt tossed 42.2 innings with a 2.13 ERA, best on the team, as an eighth-grader playing varsity in 2020.
“Mya was one of the players in this area that everybody tagged as a player to watch,” Otwell said. “Coming in last year, we expected Mya to be that dominant arm. And from my years at Holtville, when I was there, and having [Kaylyn] Dismukes, that big arm, you figure out you need more than one arm to be successful.”
Holt hit a slight rough patch in the middle of the season, giving up at least two earned runs six times in a stretch of seven games from Feb. 22 to March 6, but has responded by surrendering one earned run in 13.1 innings of work in her two most recent outings.
On the season she’s recorded 63 strikeouts against just 24 walks in a team-high 70.2 innings.
“I just got down on myself a lot,” Holt said. “I just felt like I couldn’t do anything at that point. Luckily I had my teammates, who had my back and started to pick me up, told me, ‘We all know what you’re capable of.’ That really started bringing me back up and got my confidence up.”
After getting hit around a bit as she wore down later in games she started, Otwell said, Burgess has settled into a role as the team’s go-to reliever, recording a team-low ERA of 2.43 in 40.1 innings of work.
In the Gulf Shores Classic a few weeks ago, Burgess picked up three saves in two days against teams ranked in the top 10 for their respective classes in Alabama by the Alabama Sports Writers Association.
Having a pitcher serve primarily as a reliever is much rarer in softball than in baseball, Otwell added, but she’s been “huge” for the team’s success this season.
“I know that I need to be ready when and if my team needs me,” Burgess said. “If I have a feeling that I’m about to go in, I just think, ‘This my chance to show what I’m capable of and what my team is capable of,’ every time I step in the circle.”
Watson didn’t start on Otwell’s radar as a pitcher when he took the head coaching job ahead of the 2020 season. At that time, she was a JV shortstop.
At practice one day she waltzed up to the coach and asked for a shot as a pitcher, and Otwell granted her the opportunity with a bullpen session.
Otwell said he watched Watson throw three missiles and told her, “You’re definitely a pitcher.”
“I knew that [Burgess and Holt] would need some help somehow because they can’t do it all by themselves,” Watson said. “I knew I would have a really good defense behind me and really good at-bats to help me.”
Watson now holds a record of 10-1 on the season with an ERA of 3.00.
Three freshmen aren’t leading Wetumpka’s pitching staff because the team lacks depth, Otwell said. There are upperclassmen on the roster that could prove productive in the circle.
The talents of the trio rose to the top, however. Otwell said he’s excited for the future of the program as a result.
“I told them going into the year, ‘There’s gonna be some times you get hit around, some times you have great success,” Otwell said. “You’ve gotta take the good with the bad and just continue to grow.”
Holt said she’s seen Wetumpka improve since its semifinal run in the Gulf Shores Classic, which could have gone further had the tournament not been canceled due to inclement weather.
She believes the Indians are capable of going to state this season. Burgess added that all three could pitch at the next level if they continue growing.
“They work hard. They work hard every day,” Otwell said. “I can see these three, over the next four years, taking the reins and giving us a chance to make it back to Lagoon Park. I really do.”
Wetumpka’s season will continue, likely with either Holt or Watson starting in the circle, with an area game at Benjamin Russell Thursday.