Go with what works, as pitching has for Val Kaff since age 6.
It’s the only position she’s played, and will continue to play. She enjoys being a focal point and being in control (mostly) of a game’s outcome.
Of course, it’s easy to say this when you’re possibly more responsible for a team’s success in 2013 than anyone else in Arizona.
Mountain View wasn’t prolific offensively (.298 team batting average and five runs per game average) or defensively in 2013, yet because of Kaff’s 0.81 earned run average, 431 strikeouts (which led Arizona and crushed her own school record of 301 set last year), the Toros won the Dorado Classic, earned the No. 5 seed in the Division I state tournament and reached the semifinals.
“It made me mentally stronger because we better keep it close or go extra innings,” she said. “I didn’t really feel the pressure, but I knew I had to be on my game.”
In strictly high school softball, she threw 456 innings since her sophomore year (she pitched part-time as a freshman), and at times the wear and tear showed physically and in performance by season’s end.
But not this year, and even though the 2013 Tribune Player of the Year was beaten by Chaparral in the semifinals (Val suffered a shoulder injury late in the game trying to dive back to a base), the Toros were understandably compelled to ride their senior ace for however long she could stand up.
“I don’t even count how many pitches I throw in a game,” she said.
Would you want to know?
“No, not really, because it’d be awfully high,” she said.
She stayed relatively healthy, even down the stretch and into postseason, and in terms of her goals of breaking her own strikeout record and getting the Toros into the playoffs: Done.
“My goal is to win, and get people out,” she said.
With six new starters this season, even she felt satisfied in the team’s extended postseason play despite struggles against eventual-champion Red Mountain and the loss to Chaparral.
She threw 16 shutouts among her 27 wins this season, including a one-hit (the first batter of the game), 20-strikeout performance against Desert Vista in the second round of the state tournament, followed by a shutout of No. 1-seed Glendale Mountain Ridge.
Her next lineup of victims will come in college at Michigan State, which she chose over San Diego, Utah and New Mexico State because of the lure of Big Ten softball and being surrounded by greenery.
Aware of how good the high school/club competition is in Arizona, she might get her chance right away to find out how a major college conferences fares against her fastball and riseball, since she said there are no plans to redshirt.
She went to freshman orientation in East Lansing last week, and with club ball tournaments filling her summer before leaving for school Aug. 23, the lack of vacation time might worry most, but doing anything else isn’t of interest, even if it means moving 1,500 miles away.
“It’s far but I need that experience,” she said. “I always wanted to go to a big school and a big conference. I’m nervous about the winters but our season is in spring and we have indoor (practices). The change of leaves and cool air will be nice.”
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.