Softball’s a lifestyle for the Valley’s strikeout queen

Fred McCormick

People following Owen softball this season have likely noticed a difference in sophomore sensation Jaiden Tweed.

Following a freshman season in which she struck out more than 200 batters, the Warlassies pitcher spent the summer changing her windup. Changing what works may seem counterintuitive to many people. But to Tweed, it’s part of her lifestyle.

Tweed was introduced to the sport at age 4 by her mother and has been playing since.

“I used to go out in the yard and hit the ball with my dad even before then,” Tweed said. “It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

Ironically, her success on the field led to big changes and a renewed commitment last summer.

“I had a lot of success as a freshman, but during the summer when I was playing for the Lady Lightning (a prospect team out of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina) I started to get looked at by colleges,” she said. “And a college camp that I went to told me ‘we don’t like your windup.’ And it wasn’t just that college, but other colleges as well.”

Tweed’s former motion, which she had been using since she was 9-years-old, involved “a lot of motion,” she said. So she spent her free time working on it when she wasn’t playing in the outfield for her summer team.

“I completely changed my motion and went with a more traditional style,” Tweed said. “It was extremely hard to change because it felt so foreign to me.”

The change paid off in a big way for Tweed, who in October committed to play softball for Presbyterian College.

“It gave me a huge confidence boost going into the season knowing that I’ll be playing (NCAA Division I) softball,” she said. “It really gives me the chance to just focus on getting better as a player.”

Strikeout totals for Tweed this season are down, largely due to Owen head coach Jenny Johnson’s making sure the Warlassies have a second seasoned pitcher. But Tweed is still amassing strikeouts at roughly the same rate as 2015.

“I think it’s important to have two pitchers with experience because you never know what can happen,” Johnson said. “It also gives Jaiden’s body a little bit of a break, while taking that constant pressure off. It’s a little different when you’re playing in the field than it is when you pitch.”

Johnson has been impressed with the improved control that has come along with Tweed’s smoother windup, which has drastically reduced the number of walks given up by the pitcher.

“It’s definitely been a good move,” Johnson said. “She had a lot going on with that original windup, and I think she has really gained a lot more control. And the new windup is probably a lot easier on her body.”

Tweed, an all-state selection on the N.C. Softball Coaches Association 2-A team after her freshman season, was strikingly confident about debuting her new windup in her sophomore campaign.

“It helped that I had the summer season to work on it,” she said. “When I came into the school season it was already there.”

Tweed worked on her offensive game during the winter months in a small building that she and her father Heath converted to an indoor hitting facility.

“I felt like I needed to get better,” Tweed said. “So I asked my dad if he could get me locked back in (offensively) and he said ‘of course.’”

Tweed’s father has been her hitting instructor since she won a state championship with her Babe Ruth team at the age of 6. He knew precisely what to address in his daughter’s swing.

“It boils down to breaking it down to the most simple thing, which is hitting off of the tee,” he said. “The big thing in fast-pitch softball is that you have to be real short to the contact and finish straight ahead. That’s what we worked on all winter.”

The results have been evident in Tweed’s offensive numbers this season.

She has spent the majority of the season with a batting average hovering around .500 and currently leads the Warlassies in home runs.

“I don’t want to sound too much like a proud father,” her father said. “But offensively it’s really hard for people to understand that for a pitcher to just walk off the rubber and produce is a pretty difficult role. I’ve really been proud of how she’s been able to step up and do that.”