Pitcher goes the distance for Columbia College softball team

Thursday, April 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Valerie Teter is now a student assistant for the Columbia College softball team.

COLUMBIA — We've all seen it. A Major League starter goes six to seven innings, then goes to the dugout with an ice bag Saran-wrapped to his shoulder as another pitcher takes the mound. Four days later, the process begins again.

Valerie Teter, a junior pitcher on the Columbia College softball team, doesn't get the ice bag after going seven innings.

She goes another seven innings.

"I've been doing it all my life," Teter said. "I've had to go three to five games when the championship was on a certain day."

Teter has been an integral part of the Cougars' success this season. Needing a doubleheader sweep last week against McKendree to claim a share of the American Midwest Conference regular season title, the Cougars relied on Teter.

She struck out 14 in the first game, allowing  just one run in a seven-inning complete game. Then in the second game, even though by most standards, fatigue should have caused her to give up a few more runs, she pitched a seven-inning shutout, striking out 10.

The victories tied Columbia College with Williams Baptist at 12-4 and helped earn the Cougars (30-17) the No. 1 seed in this weekend's AMC tournament. The Cougars start play Friday in a best-of-three series against Missouri Baptist at Columbia College. Game time will be determined by coaches' decisions about the chance of rain.

Although the possibility of her going only one game is there, Teter has come to expect to take the mound for the second. Teter will pitch one game, then she has about 20 minutes to rest before the next game begins.

"In my mind, I already know I'm going to pitch that second game," she said. "I just relax between innings and games and just try not to think about it until I go out to warm up again."

Besides the McKendree sweep, Teter has pitched back-to-back in doubleheaders against Williams Baptist, William Woods and Missouri Baptist.

"She's the only pitcher on our roster that does that," Cougars head coach Wendy Spratt said. "It really sets the momentum when she pitches like that. She doesn't like to have runners on base. She's bound and determined to get them out."

Sometimes pitching back-to-back games can give Teter an advantage.

"Most of the time, I'm more relaxed for the second game because I've already seen what the hitters can do," she said. "The hitters know what I can do, but I have the same advantage on them. I'll talk to my catcher and see what's working and what I need to polish up a bit and go from there. It's just all a mind game."

Cougars assistant coach Tyler Stark said the team doesn't have to worry too much about wearing out its ace.

"A softball pitcher's movement is more of a natural movement than the overhead throw like baseball pitchers," he said. "You're able to ride your No. 1 pitcher. It's just easier to do in softball."

It has worked well this season. Teter leads the AMC in wins, innings pitched per game, and is second behind Williams Baptist's Kim Emmons in earned run average, though Teter has pitched in nine more games than Emmons. Teter's 23-6 record and 299 strikeouts are second in the NAIA.

In her eight back-to-back games, Teter has pitched complete games, giving up just 10 earned runs while striking out 76 batters. Only once did Teter give up more than two earned runs in a game. The success has come from hard work.

"Her drive is unlike anything I've ever seen," Stark said. "You don't have to ask her to put in the extra work. She never gets enough. She'll ask to throw 25 more pitches after her workout, or she'll say, 'Oh, let's work on this pitch a little bit more.' She just puts in more work than anybody else."

Teter had to put in a lot of extra work after breaking her ankle her sophomore season.

"All summer she just worked her way back ... she knows everything she does makes her better," Spratt said.

Though she's known for her pitching, Teter will step up to the plate as a batter, as well. But honestly, she likes things from the other side.

"I like to be in control of the game and the action," Teter said. "I like to be there every pitch."

"It's almost intimidating for the other teams to see her on the mound," Spratt said. "She knows what to do, and it definitely sets the tone for the game."

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