Dedication and hard work yield results. Mount Greylock's Heather Tomkowicz is finding that out.
The junior Mountie has put in the work both in season and offseason and it led her to the 2013 All-Transcript Softball MVP.
"I think I was a little more confident this year in general," she said. "This year I kind of went into it knowing that I worked hard and all the work that I put in in the offseason definitely is going to contribute into this season."
Tomkowicz has spent recent offseasons training attending camps and clinics to further develop her pitching, which makes sense because it's the only position she plays -- as evidenced by no other Greylock pitcher stepping into the circle this spring.
Tomkowicz pitched all 136 innings the Mounties played. She says she didn't tire throughout the season -- not even during the 15-inning marathon against Drury -- in large part because of her year-round dedication.
"It's funny because you wouldn't think about it. It's not a sport like track or cross country where you think ‘oh, I have to train a ton to really get in shape.' But you really do because it's tiring," she said. "When you have those games like the 15-inning game against Drury where you have to have endurance to do that, I think pitching year-round definitely helped me build that endurance."
Having Tomkowicz as the only pitcher was not the plan going into this season, but she didn't give coach June Blake any reason to take her out, either.
"It just sort of happened," Blake said. "But you know, she's one of those players, she doesn't want to come out. She wants to go out there, she wants to play every game; she'll play every inning."
The hard work has paid off, especially in the last year. As a sophomore, she had four good pitches. She now has five that she can confidently deliver at any point during a game. She has a fastball, changeup, curveball, riseball and dropball. The self-proclaimed perfectionist has one more in the works, too.
The five pitches cover the strike zone from top to bottom, left to right, and that's been a big help in her success. It's a progression classmate catcher Kendal Frye has seen since their freshman year.
"She definitely improved on her pitches," she said. "She's got more over time and she's worked on them to make them better. She has gotten faster, and you can definitely tell she's worked in the offseason."
Tomkowicz used all those pitches to keep hitters guessing all season. Seldom did they figure her out. She struck out 172 batters in 136 innings or 1.26 per inning. It's the second year in a row she's crossed the 170 strikeout mark; she had 179 as a sophomore.
It would have been easy to predict a decline in strikeouts for Tomkowicz this year because it was her second on varsity. She wouldn't be a surprise. But she had just that for opposing hitters and it was a riseball. An ideal two-strike pitch, Tomkowicz utilized it to continue sitting down batter after batter.
"The thing with a riseball is that it looks like it's coming in at a normal height, and then when they swing it goes up," she explained. "So just in general in softball, a good riseball is really hard to hit. It was definitely a big improvement in my game this year."
With five pitches in her arsenal, it would have been easy for Tomko wicz to simply not use a pitch on any given day if it wasn't working just the way she wanted. But that's not how she operates. She's a problem solver, and the camps and clinics have helped her with that.
"It helped me mentally a lot because a few years ago, I used to get really frustrated with myself when I wouldn't do well because I was kind of a perfectionist," she said. "It helped me be a more analytical pitcher because when something isn't going right or a pitch isn't going right, I've learned to pinpoint what's wrong."
It made her that much more dangerous in the circle and helped prepare her for when runners did get on base.
When opponents were able to solve her, they found pushing runs across just as difficult. Her earned-run average was only 1.65, as only 32 of opponents' 65 runs were earned.
That helped the Mounties to a 9-11 record and a Western Massa chusetts tournament berth. Her record could have easily been more eye-catching had even half of the team's six one-run losses gone its way.
"I thought we had a really good season. I mean we made it to Western Mass. again, which is really nice," she said. "What I really liked about this season in particular is that our team was just really well-bonded. We worked really cohesively together, and when I was pitching, I just felt like I had such a strong defense behind me. I really didn't have to worry."