Through the first 12 games of the season, the Owen Warlassies have won in almost every way imaginable. There were games in which sophomore pitching sensation Jaiden Tweed recorded as many as 15 strikeouts, like she did in March against conference foe Avery.
But there have also been unusual wins, like the 8-2 road victory over Mountain Heritage High School on April 13 in which head coach Jenny Johnson handed the reigns to another sophomore pitcher, Caitlyn Ledford.
Ledford, who is one of the leading hitters for the Warlassies this season, delivered in her sixth appearance of the season, allowing two earned runs in seven innings of work. She earned her fourth win, and Owen improved to 6-1 in the Western Highlands Conference.
“I’m proud of how they’ve been playing,” Johnson said. “They’ve gone into each game with confidence, and I feel pretty good with where we’re at right now.”
The Warlassies were in second place in the conference going into their April 19 matchup against Madison (game results were not available as of deadline).
“We’ve got Madison and then Polk twice, and those are our biggest games in the conference,” Johnson said.
If the Warlassies are to finish at the top of the conference they will need to rely on more than the arms of Tweed and Ledford.
“We have to hit the ball consistently,” Johnson said. “We need to be able to string hits together because one run can make or break you.”
In fact, Owen’s only loss in the five games leading up to its game against Madison was a 1-0 pitchers’ duel that the Warlassies dropped to T.C. Roberson.
“We left people on base,” Johnson said. “We had opportunities that we weren’t able to take advantage of.”
As the second batter in the Warlassies’ lineup, Ledford is responsible for creating many of those RBI opportunities.
Her .457 batting average through 43 plate appearances suggests she has done exactly that.
“I’m in the spot to put the ball in play and move the runners that are on base before me over,” Ledford said. “That puts Jaiden (Tweed) and Ashley (Valencia) in position to bring them in so we score early in the game.”
Ledford was second on the team with 12 RBIs through as many games; her defensive play has been almost flawless. Spending most of her time on second base, she was credited with only two errors through the team’s first 12 games.
As a pitcher - other than Tweed, she’s the only player to have more than one appearance on the mound for Owen this season - Ledford’s familiarity with the team’s defense has proven useful. Her approach to pitching is different from Tweed’s, who strikes out about two batters for every inning she pitches.
“I have to trust the defense a lot when I pitch,” Ledford said. “Jaiden throws with a lot more speed than I do, so when I pitch I know the other team is going to put the ball in play. I think we have a really strong defense.”
Offensively the Warlassies have shown glimpses of their full potential, outscoring opponents 44-3 during a span of three games from late March into early April. The first four hitters in the lineup batted over .400 through the first 12 games, but Ledford agrees with her coach that increased production will be needed to battle for one of the top spots in the conference.
“We need to keep backing up the pitcher with solid defense,” she said. “All of us need to jump on pitches quickly and try to hit around.”