On one of the first truly warm days of 2021, Alex Hastings was extra careful not to tire herself out. Instead, she chose to deal that fate to opposing hitters. Hastings, a pitcher on the Long Beach softball team, threw a one-hitter and struck out 18 batters in a 5-0 win over New Hyde Park last Saturday.
"It was actually very hot out that day, so I was just taking it easy," Hastings said. "I was slowing myself down because I tend to get worked up a lot and move faster than I normally should. So, I was taking deep breaths… Since it's so hot, I get exhausted faster, and when I get nervous or when any pressure is put on me, I tend to speed up and I overexert myself. So, I really was making sure that I was not doing that."
The junior broke the program-record for strikeouts in a game. The previous mark, 17, was set by Melissa Donnelly in 2007 and matched by Kelly Jansen in 2009 and Tonianne Larson in 2017, said Long Beach coach Carmine Verde.
Hastings is Newsday’s Athlete of the Week.
The accomplishment hit home for Hastings, who had previously worked with Larson on mechanics, beginning when the new record holder was in middle school.
"Tonianne Larson is like an idol to me," Hastings said.
While Hastings has another private pitching coach, she said Larson was able to reinforce those lessons — acting as almost a secondary mechanics coach when Hastings was finding her identity in the circle.
"I really think those reps helped me," said Hastings, thinking back to her sessions with Larson. "Tonianne was always there to help freshen me up."
While warming up for her record-setting performance, Hastings’ screwball reappeared. She had ditched the pitch earlier in the season when it lost its movement. But, almost as if the pitch knew what was coming, it started working again last weekend.
"It was going inside, like a screwball should do, but it wasn't moving like my curveball," Hastings said of the pitch’s early season problems. "You could visibly see my curveball move after I threw it. But my screwball was just going straight to the spot."
Not that the curveball was left out last week. That, like it usually does, was working to perfection.
"She was able to overpower a few of the hitters in that lineup," Verde said. "Her curveball was really good that day. It was fast and had a nice bite to it. That was her money pitch."
With an effective screwball, Hastings now has a sixth pitch to choose from when she’s in the circle, leading to her optimism about the rest of the spring.
"I really hope I can keep up with the strikeouts, even if it’s not 18," she said.