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The Diary Of A College Softball Player - A Strong Start

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(Photo by Duke Athletics)

Jala Wright is a junior pitcher for Duke University and a former intern for Softball America. Wright transferred to Duke following her freshman season at Michigan State University.

Today, Feb. 3, marks five days until game day for my team. I would say on a scale of 1-10 I am a solid 12 right now. My teammates and even coaches can all agree we are tired of intrasquad scrimmages and ready to compete with another team.

But, today is Saturday, so that means we have another intrasquad scrimmage. Throughout the game, all is going as planned. But, when the time comes for my at-bat, my season flashes before my eyes.

It’s a 1-0 count with runners on second and third and one out. I am thinking, let's lay down a sneaky-quick bunt on the first base side. If I execute it, I can score my teammate and make it safely to first base. I step in the box ready to get the job done. The pitcher begins her motion, I begin my load and then I see the ball is coming inside. As I square up to show bunt, I notice the ball is still coming inside. Before I know it, the ball completely misses my bat and hits my pitching hand straight on. It hits me right on my knuckles. I instantly feel the pain and the tears begin to flow. The field goes silent.

I take a few moments to shake out my hand, but it's throbbing. Coach has me go get it checked out by our trainer immediately. The scrimmage continues without me. While my trainer looks at my hand, all I can think about is this might end my season before it even begins. My hand is stiff, only allowing me to make slight movements. Thankfully, movements indicate it is not broken. My trainer concludes it's just bruised, resulting in me being all good.

For the next couple practices, my hand is a bit sore, but I am grateful I can play on it. I say a quick thank you prayer to God and my grandparents knowing the situation could have been a lot worse.

Feb. 8 marks one more sleep until it is officially game day. Duke is headed to California. We leave the stadium at 5 a.m. to catch a flight, but halfway to the airport, we find out our flight is delayed. It sucks knowing we could’ve gotten a few extra hours of sleep. But after making lots of videos for our social media pages in the airport, doing homework assignments and having a ton of laughs, we board the plane for our six-hour flight.

When we finally arrive in sunny California, we immediately head to the Jen Schro Catching Retreat for practice. All feel-good reps take place. We cap the night off by going to In-N-Out Burger. I thoroughly enjoyed my double-double burger with fries.

Now, it's finally game day! Feb. 9 is here and it’s opening day for Division I softball. The Mark Campbell Invitational has begun. Our first two games of the season are against the Washington Huskies and Oklahoma Sooners. (Hell of a first day, right?) I got the first start of the season against the Huskies. Of course, I had some nerves going into the game, but as soon as I got the first three outs of the first inning I was fired up and ready to go. It was a heated battle all the way to the end. We fell a bit short, losing to Washington, 4-3. It felt good to finally step on the field again for a real game.

Up next for us, the Sooners. It was amazing to see Oklahoma's fanbase. Those fans are no joke. They were yelling and screaming at us from all directions, but it fired us up. We competed with our best efforts, but fell short, 4-0. I got to come into the game in relief in the bottom of the sixth. I know young me would've been so proud to even say I got to pitch against the Sooners. I idolized them growing up, so actually stepping on the field to battle against them made my heart full. I must also add I’m thrilled to say I struck out two of their best players, Jordy Bahl and Tiare Jennings!

Day two comes around and we know we must bounce back. Going 0-2 the first day was not how we wanted to start our season. Our first opponent of the day is San Jose State. In the first inning, we put three runs on the board. As the game progresses, San Jose State begins to cave. Our offense is just too much to handle. Team 6 gets its first win of the season in run-rule fashion, 11-2.

To wrap up day two, our final game is against Liberty. We went up 3-0 in the first inning, but Liberty then answered back with two runs. It's a back-and-forth battle until the third inning. The score is 5-4 when I get put in for relief in the fourth. In the fifth inning, Liberty answered back, making the score 5-5.

The next couple innings go scoreless. It's a battle of the pitchers now. I begin to feel all the feels as we enter the eighth inning. The bats get hot! Duke plays a little “move 'em, score 'em.” We go up 8-5, but since Liberty is the home team, they get last at-bats. I step in the circle, take a deep breath and go to work. The runner on second is left stranded, as I get three strikeouts to end the game. Duke wins 8-5! We are now 2-2 on the season.

Our final matchup of the tournament is against Stanford on Saturday for “The Battle of the Nerds.” The first inning was tough. Due to a tight zone by the umpires and defensive errors, Stanford went up 2-0. But in our half of the first inning, we answered back, making the score 3-2 Duke. The next three innings go scoreless. Fatigue starts to set in during the top of the sixth. I have thrown over 200 pitches on the weekend at this point. I walk the first batter and give up a hit. Coach knows I'm done, so she brings in our freshman pitcher to close it out. She gets back-to-back strikeouts and a pop-up to secure the lead and bring the momentum back to us. I was so proud of our freshman coming up clutch in such a big moment! We scored another run to seal the lead, and we get our first win of the season over a ranked opponent, 4-2.

We head back to the airport with smiles knowing we're on a three-game win streak. Now, we're ready to take on the Clearwater Invitational in a few days!

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The Diary Of A College Softball Player - Season Reflections

Duke junior pitcher Jala Wright reflects on the season that was and looks ahead to next year.

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