Two-way tango: Pitchers dominate in the circle and at the plate

Auburn Riverside, Auburn Mountainview and Liberty stars talk about being a ‘two-way player.’

With the emergence of superstar Shohei Ohtani, who pitches and hits at the MLB level, two-way players are receiving more chances on both sides of the ball than ever.

On the fastpitch diamond, two-way players are more common than many think. A few local girls are very good at what they do and have put up video game-like numbers this season: Sophomore Brynna Erdmann from Auburn Mountainview, senior Elyse McMullin from Liberty, and Lexi Vircks from Auburn Riverside.

A regular position player or pitcher has a normal practice routine that is split up for defense and hitting. But as a two-way player, it’s double the work. Sometimes players have to cut down on batting practice to pitch, or vice-versa. This creates a difficult environment for success because doing both is not easy. But these girls have found a way.

“If I feel like I don’t get a lot of hitting reps during practice, I’ll go home and practice there and on the weekends,” Lexi Vircks said.

Raven pitcher Lexi Vircks pitches in the Riverside season opener. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Raven pitcher Lexi Vircks pitches in the Riverside season opener. Ben Ray / The Reporter

One of the leaders on the softball team is the pitcher, and as a hitter, there is additional leadership that just comes with the position.

“With all the work that I put in, I can set a good example for people after me. I just want to set a good example for Avery (Huh) and the people after her,” Elyse McMullin said

All three of these girls understand the pressure that comes with being the main pitcher for their teams, and most of them hit in the middle of the batting order. When adversity strikes, the players have to be able to flip a switch and focus on their task at hand.

“It can be pretty difficult sometimes, to switch if you have a bad inning. You have to be able to forget it and move on and focus on hitting,” Brynna Erdmann said.

Erdmann has thrown the highest percentage of innings on this list, throwing 74% of her team’s innings this season.

“She’s great, she’s a dawg … Last year she was our only pitcher and she pitched every single game and got home runs blasted off her and you know things happen. I just said to dig deep, you gotta do it. I think that builds character… Now she’s ready for any situation on offense or defense, ” Head Coach Kristen Herren said about her sophomore in a prior story.

Vircks has thrown 45% of her team’s innings this season. McMullin has thrown just over 52% of the Patriots’ innings for the entire season.

There is also a closeness with the coaching staff that is needed for these girls to succeed. Trust between a pitcher and a coach is one thing, but for that player to hit as well is a whole other level.

“You need to have that support and trust between you and your coach,” Vircks said.

Elyse McMullin toes the slab in the circle for the Patriots in the win over Juanita. Ben Ray / The Reporter

Elyse McMullin toes the slab in the circle for the Patriots in the win over Juanita. Ben Ray / The Reporter

The mental toughness and maturity that it takes to play both positions is something to marvel. In softball and baseball alike, many times a player will bring frustration from an at-bat or bad outing on the mound. But all of these girls have ways to handle the stress and difficulties of the game.

“I like to say I’m a calm person on the field. I try and keep a calm way about me because I know when I am pitching I have to be the bigger person,” McMullin said.

At the plate, these girls flat out rake. Of the three, McMullin is batting .560 this season. Erdmann is hitting .423 and Vircks batting average is .441. McMullin thinks that being a pitcher can kind of help her approach at the plate.

“As a pitcher, you understand counts, pitches and situations… It’s more of an advantage than a disadvantage,” McMullin said.

A key for McMullin is being able to control the pace and tempo of the game: “I like to control the game. I take it at my own speed,” she said.

All three of these teams will make the postseason that begins May 16 for Liberty and May 18 for the Auburn schools. Liberty is in first place in the 3A KingCo while the Ravens and Lions battle it out for a top spot at 3A class in the NPSL.