Twenty-six strikeouts in 15 innings with a 0.93 ERA.
It’s hard to imagine that Texas Tech sophomore and Big 12 Pitcher of the Week Gretchen Aucoin didn’t play softball in high school.
Because she didn’t want to deal with drama of playing for a young coach straight out of college, Aucoin resorted to basketball at Ocean Springs (Miss.) High while focusing on travel ball to get her noticed by college softball coaches.
Once Aucoin realized how young the college scouts were looking, she decided to switch teams so her name would get out.
Her play spoke for itself in College Station at the 16U Nationals when Texas Tech head coach Shanon Hays first saw Aucoin play.
“I was impressed with the way she moved and her overall presence out there (at third base),” Hays said. “As I watched her more, I learned that she pitched as well. She was raw as a pitcher, fielder and hitter, but you could definitely see her potential.”
Aucoin verbally committed with Tech over Alabama, Mississippi State and Southern Mississippi.
“I wanted to be away from home,” Aucoin said. “I wanted to get out of Mississippi. It really wasn’t my forte. My parents are from Kentucky originally, so we weren’t really into that whole shindig of the bayou and stuff. I just wanted to get out and explore some new areas. Tech was the furthest from home that offered.”
That commitment opened up a door for Aucoin as former Tech assistant coach Kristie Fox’s father needed a pitcher on his select team in California.
“I was kind of standoffish that my dad even considered sending me away to California,” Aucoin said. “I was like ‘OK, it’s just going to get me prepared for college and being away from home.’ It was pretty great. I just bounced around from host families on the team, you know, parents of the players.”
While Aucoin pitched and played third base, she didn’t get much time at the plate because her coaches didn’t want to risk injuring their pitcher.
Once she got to Tech, Aucoin and Hays began to work on her swing.
“There’s so many things that go into hitting — finding the right pitch to hit, and when you get the right pitch to hit, putting the right swing on it,” Hays said. “Getting her to where she’s mechanically sound needs to be where when she does get a good pitch, she’s going to make them pay if she lines it up. It’s still a work in progress but the ability she has is tremendous. She’s gotten so much better it makes you excited about the future.”
So far this season, Aucoin is batting .288 with 16 RBIs and a pair of home runs, including a grand slam in the fifth inning against Texas State.
Whether she’s pitching or playing first base (a move made because of the athletes Hays had at third base), Aucoin is seeing more time at the plate.
“Gretchen’s been somebody who it’s been easy to keep her in the lineup,” Hays said.
“because she gives you so many options being able to come in and pitching in the middle innings and then you can take her out again and still leave her in. It’s easy to leave her in the lineup and as a result the more at-bats she’s had the ability to have.”
Consistency in the lineup, as well as experience as a pitcher, helps Aucoin know what to expect in the batter’s box.
“(Pitching) gives me a better look of what the zone is and what the umpire has in mind is a ball or strike,” Aucoin said. “It changes with each game. I’ve become a lot more patient and selective, which has really helped me with my hitting because I’m looking for my pitch. To finally see that consistently helps a lot and I think it helps my teammates a lot, too, when I can communicate that to them.”
While Aucoin has been successful throughout the non-conference slate of the 2014 schedule, Hays notices a bigger change in her approach in the circle.
“Last year she would throw hard at times and then she would really lose her velocity as the innings went by during a game,” Hays said. “She’s grown stronger and more confident with that. It seems like she’s throwing almost as hard in the last inning as she was the first inning. You know her confidence with her pitch placement, throwing strikes and getting ahead in the count and just her overall maturity.”
Aucoin (8-3) leads the Red Raider pitching staff with an ERA of 1.18 and 91 strikeouts in 77 innings.
Associate head coach Aly Sartini said the focus with Aucoin this season is consistency.
“Go out and be consistent with every batter and every pitch,” Sartini said. “Not where one inning we’re in the zone and the next inning we’re out of the zone. We’re really working on staying around the zone and staying consistent and not working behind but always working ahead.”
One lesson Aucoin had to learn her freshman season was that she couldn’t just throw it by batters anymore; she had to focus on hitting her spots.
“She hadn’t had a lot of formal pitching-coach training,” Sartini said. “We worked on a lot of things — becoming body aware and understanding what it feels like when pitches are going right and when they’re going wrong. … She’s really developed understanding how her body and things are working together. After getting that freshman year under her belt, she’s really understanding what a Division I pitcher’s supposed to be like.”
With Aucoin’s fastball clocked all the way up to 68 miles per hour, both pitcher and coach enjoy it when a change-up comes in and makes the batter look silly.
“I love seeing the change-up work when it does,” Aucoin said. “It’s beautiful.”
Last weekend Aucoin broke both the single-season and career save records for Texas Tech with five on the season and seven overall.
“They’re not scoring off me,” Aucoin said. “Finish it and close it out. They haven’t seen me and they aren’t used to me yet. I doubt they’re going to in the next two innings. … I have all the confidence in the world because the pitcher before me already set me up to succeed so I just have to go out there and do what I do best.”
Whether it’s in the circle, the field or the batter’s box, Aucoin will do whatever she can to help her team win.
“If she can continue her progress into the Big 12 play, you have to feel pretty good about our team’s chances to be at the top at the end,” Hays said. “Whatever hitting she gives us on top of that just seems like a luxury with her ability.”
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