Last Update: Thursday, May 23, 2013
|Written by Mike Terry|
|Thursday, 21 March 2013 03:17|
Chatsworth Catcher Kaitlin Ryder Makes Hitting A Softball Look Ridiculously Simple
A Chancellor With Clout - Chatsworth catcher Kaitlin Ryder (left) , a junior, has been one of the most consistent prep school softball hitters in the Valley. In the photo on the right, Ryder is backed by Chatsworth pitchers (l-r) Elexa Hernandez, Kyla Gendler and Brianna Velasquez.
For all those who believe hitting a softball is as easy as breathing, take the slo-pitch game out of the equation. Now try to smack this seemingly large, round object as it comes to you at speeds of 50 mph or more from 45 feet away, spinning, dipping or curving. That might take your swag down a peg.
Of course if your name is Kaitlin Ryder, it doesn't seem to matter how hard pitchers throw it, or what they try to make the ball do: her bat will still find it.
Her Chatsworth High teammates call her K-Rod and Scrunch. They could also call her The Machine. The 16-yearold catcher, a junior, is one of the best and most consistent hitters in the City Section.
Ryder is currently batting .517 with 10 RBIs. Among her 15 hits are two doubles, a triple and three home runs. She has struck out only four times in 35 plate total appearances. Camarillo is the only team to keep her hitless in a game so far this season.
She is a big reason why the Chancellors are off to an 8-2 start, and are emerging as a challenger for the West Valley League and City championships. Ryder may be on the small side – "Five-feet maybe," Chatsworth Coach Jay Creps says with a grin – but she certainly carries a big stick.
Began Playing Early
Ryder's father got her interested in baseball at age three, first playing catch then putting a bat in her hands to see if she liked the game. "I don't remember what kind of ball, I just remember the stories," Ryder said.
She played Little League baseball in Chatsworth as a pitcher, catcher and shortstop. But catching soon became her permanent position. Even at a young age, Ryder said she knew where her passion lay.
"I was in cheerleading for a year when I was six; that was my 'girly-girl' moment, when I was a Chatsworth Chief," she said "But I told my dad 'you know, I don't like this. I want to go back to baseball.' I was all off-key and didn't have any rhythm. So baseball it is."
She kept playing baseball until her early teens; she didn't gravitate toward softball until joining a travel team just before going to high school. But having learned to hit the smaller, harder baseball honed her hand-and-eye coordination to a point where hitting a softball was like swatting a pillow with a boat oar.
She said softball has also become her game of choice although she still hits baseballs at home.
"I miss baseball but it's nothing compared to softball," Ryder said. "I feel I'm a much better fit with softball. I'm glad I started out with baseball because it's made me a better player, with the competition."
Ryder was a hit, literally, from the day she stepped onto the Chatsworth campus. She made the 2011 varsity team as a freshman and batted .464, with 26 hits in 56 at-bats. She had four home runs, but only 8 RBIs, in part due to an injured wrist that forced her to miss part of the season.
Last year, as a sophomore, Ryder blossomed as a player, batting .520 while leading the Chancellors in hits (39) and RBIs (32). She had six doubles, two triples and six home runs. More impressively she only struck out once in her 87 total plate appearances.
"She is a great hitter and good leader out there," said El Camino Real Coach Lori Chandler. "She knows the game. You have to pitch around her; you can't give her anything. She can hit for power and also line drives. She takes big swings, but she's patient."
But the 2012 season was not a good one for the team. Chatsworth – which last won the City championship in 2008 – struggled through an 11-13 overall record and elimination in the quarterfinals. Ryder admitted the Chancellors were never on the same page as a team.
"We had people hurt, that was part of it," she said. "We had great players; but we were split into about three different cliques. We had an up-anddown season and that kind of fractured everybody."
That doesn't seem to be an issue this season. "This team, the girls are just amazing," Ryder said. "We're like one family. We're together and very strong. I think we're good enough to challenge for the league and more. We have the heart, we have the potential. We play so well together; I think we can go all the way, I really do.
"We're three pitchers deep (Brianna Velasquez, Kyla Gendler and Elexa Hernandez). … I love this group. This may be the best team I've ever been on."
Creps, naturally, is delighted that Ryder came to Chatsworth because there isn't a school in the Valley that wouldn't want her.
"I had heard about her. An assistant coach told me about her, and she and her dad came to our games," Creps said. You don't recruit kids although I heard ECR wanted her badly. But she came here. She got hurt her freshman year. But you could tell she was the real deal; She could hit the ball a ton. Then she joined a travel team and gained even more confidence." Ryder has a powerful swing despite her relatively short stature, Creps said.
"Two weeks ago we're at the Hart tournament," the coach said. "The fences are 320 feet away; it's a men's field. Kaitlin hit a ball so hard it went between the shortstop's legs before the kid could react. It kept rolling on the ground, hit the concrete base of the fence 320 feet away, and bounced 15 feet in the air. Never saw anything like it."
But offensive isn't the only part of her game. Behind the plate Ryder "frames" a pitch for the umpires "as well as anyone I've seen," Creps said. "She gets a lot of strikes for the pitchers. "Her only flaw is that sometimes she is too nice. She always gives her teammates the benefit of doubt even when there might be time to say 'get your head out' of you know what.' But she's also a smart kid."
Ryder admits she has to avoid bouts of overthinking and occasional self-doubt. "I'm the kind of person that likes to be perfect, but there's always room for improvement," she said. "My biggest issue is the mental part of the game. I practice all the time, I try to do whatever I can. But if I get into my head, I have to try and get out of it.
"I try to trust myself. But I can go hundreds of games where I'm doing fine. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere I'm like 'wait, did I do something wrong?' And it can build up from there. I have to trust myself; that can be a big issue."
The Chancellors don't play again until March 26, when they host Saugus. Ryder expects that game to be a measuring point of where Chatsworth is as a team, and if they could be championship material.
"I think that will be a big step for us," she said. "They're one of the best teams in Southern California. They'll show us how ready we are (for league) and how well we play together. We play together well now, but they'll really show us."
|Last Updated on Thursday, 21 March 2013 03:22|