Azusa Pacific softball pitching staff proves dominant

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Junior pitcher Destinee Levesque is one of the three pitchers on the Cougars’ softball team’s roster and currently holds a 5-3 record with a 2.65 ERA.Photo credit: Steven Mercado

The central aspect of any softball team is the pitching staff, and with three pitchers on Azusa Pacific’s team, the group is looking to have dominant performances through the rest of the season.

Head coach Carrie Webber said a staff of three pitchers is normal for a softball team, though having a fourth wouldn’t hurt.

“As long as your three pitchers are good, or at least different from each other, you should do just fine,” Webber said.

The coach and the pitchers emphasized that all three women are different as players. Freshman left-handed pitcher Carly Xepoleas is a graphic design major who has been playing softball for 13 years and pitching for eight. Xepoleas said her best pitch is a screwball.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Narissa Garcia said her best pitch is her changeup. According to Garcia, over her 10 years of pitching, she’s grown stronger mentally and physically.

Junior right-handed pitcher Destinee Levesque transferred to Azusa Pacific last fall from Fresno State. She said her strongest pitch is her curveball and that she pitches for speed.

“Destinee throws the ball hard, so any time her ball moves, it’s a good pitch,” Webber said.

Levesque said that starting a game is a unique experience that comes with a lot of pressure.

“But it’s good pressure because if you’re not doing your best, you know your teammate has your back,” Levesque said. “To start the game, you have control, and you can pitch the whole game.”

As of press time, Xepoleas has started three games so far this season and has a record of 4-0 with an ERA of 1.54. She has allowed 10 runs and struck out 31 over 41 innings. Garcia has started six games with a record of 5-3 and an ERA of 3.69. Levesque has an ERA of 2.65 over 10 appearances, including six starts. Collectively, the pitching staff has an ERA of 2.51 in 15 games.

In the first game of the season-opening doubleheader against Pomona-Pitzer, Garcia threw a one-hitter as the Cougars won 3-1. In the second game of the doubleheader, Xepoleas threw a two-hit shutout in her first collegiate game. Azusa Pacific also won that game, 8-0.

“I thought I was going to be really anxious and nervous, but I was really excited and calm out there,” Xepoleas said of her first start.

Relief pitching is not a huge concern because all three pitchers regularly throw complete games. Out of the team’s first seven games, four were complete games.

“They should be throwing complete games one out of every two or three times that they’re out there,” Webber said. “It’s not vital, but it helps when the pitcher can go the distance in softball.”

According to Webber, the team always plays doubleheaders, but she does not worry about the small pitching staff.

“I don’t worry about it as of right now, but if our pitchers are all off, that’s a day we need to be worried,” she said.

Feb. 8, the Cougars played three games in one day at the Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas. They won all three games. In the first contest, Xepoleas threw four innings and Levesque threw three and got the save in the 3-1 win against Regis. In the second game, Garcia tossed a complete game, only allowing one run in the 4-1 victory over Chadron State. In the third game, Levesque was back with a dominant performance, throwing a complete game with 10 strikeouts and two runs allowed. The Cougars won that game 5-3 against Northwest Nazarene.

The Cougars’ performance in the Desert Stinger Tournament was a testimony to the strength and solidity of their rotation. All three pitchers said the relationship among them is very good. They said they learn from each other despite their differences in pitching style.

“We’re a team within a team, so we rely on each other,” Garcia said.

Webber said the pitchers are getting better day by day, and the three of them put together a “solid” pitching staff.

“Once they have the confidence they need to perform daily, then they’ll do really well,” Webber said.

Azusa Pacific heads to St. George, Utah to face Dixie State on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 12 p.m.