By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star
---- — ONEONTA – Brieanna Baker knows what it’s like to be the young kid, the one with obvious talent, but a player who had to wait her turn on veteran squads.
Now, she’s the player everyone is looking toward.
Baker, an Oneonta High junior, didn’t disappoint in the Yellowjackets’ softball opener on an overcast but comfortable Tuesday afternoon. She used her impressive fastball to throw six innings of no-hit ball and combined with Michelle Rossi on a no-hitter in OHS’ 14-2 Southern Tier Athletic Conference victory over Johnson City.
With the exception of Baker, every player in the Yellowjackets’ lineup was making her first varsity start.
It was only a couple of years ago when Baker was the wide-eyed freshman, trying to find her way on talent-laden soccer and softball squads.
“We’re so young,” said Baker, who struck out 15 and walked four. “You can’t get mad at them if they mess up, because it’s their first year. You just have to work through it. They’ll get better as the season goes on.”
Oneonta graduated 11 seniors off of last year’s 17-3 squad that handed state champion Windsor its lone loss to a Class B school.
Baker, a right-hander, earned First Team all-state honors in the circle last season. She struck out 257 batters in 138 innings with an earned run average of 1.37. Baker also batted .396.
She appeared to be throwing even harder than a year ago in Tuesday’s opener. Three Johnson City hitters put balls in play against Baker, a come-backer by Emily Vesely in the fourth inning, and a groundout to third by Alyssa Boulter and a flyout to center by Alex Hein in the fifth inning.
Other than that, Baker overwhelmed the Wildcats’ lineup. A majority of JC’s hitters had trouble catching up to her fastball. When she spotted her fastball on the outside corner, Baker was nearly untouchable.
“I do think I’m throwing harder this season,” said Baker, who played in the Rising Stars All-America game in Plantation, Fla., in October. “I’ve been working, doing weights all off season.”
Perhaps her biggest adjustment Tuesday was adapting to a home plate umpire who had a consistent but unusually high strike zone.
Baker walked Lydia Ladd to lead off the second inning and courtesy runner Taylor Johnson came around to score on a wild pitch and two passed balls.
In the fourth inning, Ladd again walked. This time, Johnson stole second and third, and scored on a passed ball as Johnson City took a 2-1 lead.
“I really had to adjust myself, because usually by the knees, it’s a strike, but every umpire is different, so I just have to adjust how they call their strikes,” Baker said.
Baker also struck out three batters in the first, second, third and sixth innings.
“She not only has a little more strength this year – she lifts hard and she works out – but she had a good summer travel ball season,” OHS coach Randy Brockway said of Baker. “She has confidence. Coming off of last year, she knows what she can do against these girls. With a new ninth-grade catcher (Alyana Roupp), who had a great game, she controlled the game pretty well and hit her spots.”
Offensively, the Yellowjackets hit their stride in the bottom of the fourth inning against the left-handed Ladd.
Trailing, 2-1, Baker led off Oneonta’s fourth with a walk. She then used her speed that’s so evident on a soccer field and helped the Yellowjackets to a Class B state title in the fall. Bekka Struble hit a come-backer to Ladd, who immediately turned and made an accurate throw to second, but Baker beat the throw, leaving runners at first and second.
After senior Ceili Getman – the only returning player on the roster besides Baker – sacrificed the runners to second and third, Baker scored on a passed ball to tie the score at 2. Rossi then walked and both runners moved up on a passed ball.
Freshman Jordan Gaisford followed with a double to the fence to center that scored both runners, giving OHS a 4-2 lead.
Gaisford went 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored.
“It’s a big step up from JV,” said third baseman Gaisford, who is joined in Oneonta’s starting lineup by classmates Mia Obergefell (center field), Rossi (right field), Roupp (catcher) along with eighth-grader Ally Baker (first base). “I know when I got into the box, I was so nervous. I missed probably three or four signs the coach gave me.
“I’m really excited to keep improving,” she continued. “We’re all going to help each other get better. I think we’ll be a pretty good team this season.”
Oneonta tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning and then plated eight runs against relief pitcher Alexis Stetts in the sixth inning, when Struble lined a two-run triple into right-center.
Rossi completed the no-hitter in the seventh, pitching a 1-2-3 inning.
Things figure to get considerably more difficult for the Yellowjackets on Friday, when they travel to play a Windsor squad that has won four state titles over the past decade.
“I’m excited but also interested to see how it’s going to go,” Baker said of playing the defending state champs, who went 2-1 against OHS last season. “I love playing them, because it’s the best competition, like we would play (in summer ball). Plus, they won states. It’s going to be competitive.”
Oneonta 14, JC 2
Johnson City 010 100 0 – 2 0 2
Oneonta 010 328 x – 14 6 0
Lydia Ladd (L), Alexis Stetts (6), Lydia Ladd (6) and Kayla Cutting Emily Vesely (5). 2B – Jordan Gaisford (O). 3B – Bekka Struble (O).
Rob Centorani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.