GARDINER — Brittany Rollins doesn’t know and neither does Kristal Smith. But there was no question one of the two Gardiner pitchers will start against Belfast Thursday in an effort to keep the Tigers unbeaten in Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference play.
“We don’t know until we step on the field,” Rollins said. “We both warm up like we’ll both start.”
There’s a pattern to Coach Ginger Shaw’s selection of starting pitchers, though. They generally alternate starts and so far this season that’s been the case. Rollins, a senior, has started six games while Smith, a junior, has also started six. Their statistics are remarkably similar. Rollins has fanned 63 baters in 38 innings and has not allowed an earned run while Smith has struck out 50 in 34 innings and allowed seven earned runs. The Tigers have outscored their opponetns 156-11,
Shaw alternated the pair last season and it’s tough to quibble with the results. The Tigers finished 17-2 and reached the Eastern Maine Class B final. With Smith and Rollins returning this year, among several starters, they may be even better. Both are hard throwers — Smith was clocked at 60 mph over the winter — who have particular strengths.
“They’re both very, very good pitchers, probably one of the top two (tandems) in our league,” Gardiner catcher Morgan Carver said. “I’d say Kristal has more pitches than Briitany does, but Brittany is more accurate, at times. I’d say they’re both very close (in speed). I don’t notice a difference, personally, catching.”
If the differences between the two are subtle, Shaw recognizes them and uses those distinctions to the team’s advantage.
“It really is all dependent on what we’re seeing for an opponent,” Shaw said. “Very rarely does it depend on how the kids are feeling.”
The Tigers face many of their opponents twice and Shaw likes to give them a different look the second time around. That takes some of the guess work out of who will start.
“Usually we kind of figure who’s pitching, from past experiences, who’s pitched against who,” Smith said. “Like if I pitched against Erskine, Brittany would pitch against them next time. I think it’s work out pretty well so far.”
If all Smith and Rollins did was pitch, they’d be valuable team members but their worth goes much further. When not on the mound, they usually alternate playing first base and hit somewhere near the middle of the order. On a team loaded with hitters, Rollins and Smith are two of the better ones. Entering today’s game, Smith lead the team in hitting at .610 with 16 RBIs while Rollins is hitting .434 and has driven in 14 runs.
“They both are very quality hitters,” Shaw said. “For the most part they are the power hitters of our lineup. We’re looking for them to drive runs in.”
Shaw has occasionally used both pitches in the same game, sometimes to give opponents a different look or in those rare instances when Smith or Rollins is struggling.
“It’s always great knowing I have somebody to back me up,” Rollins said.
Since many softball teams use just one pitcher, there’s bound to be some friendly competition when two are involved. Considering Gardiner’s record over the past two seasons, in-team competition takes a back seat to winning.
“They have a very good attitude on who pitches,” Carver said. “We’re all family on the field.”