Goat or hero? With a game on the line, the pitcher will end up as one or the other. Hero if you get the big strikeout; goat if you give up a home run.
That’s how Florida State Softball head coach Lonni Alameda describes those high-pressure situations and it’s what Kat Sandercock came to thrive in as a Seminole.
While the closer role is vital to a baseball pitching staff, it’s less common within softball. But in Sandercock’s freshman year at FSU in 2019, she developed into a masterful relief pitcher for her team. She worked up to a starter throughout her college career but then stepped back into the role as a senior. In her final season, she finished with 10 saves.
So when captain Dejah Mulipola called her number in the fifth inning with a two-run lead, two runners on, and no outs, she was ready. Sanderock had been here before – and she loved it.
“The chance to be in that and be one or the other is why you play sports … To put your best up against the best in the toughest situation,” Sandercock said about that game. “I think it’s so fun.”
It was her first outing as a pro and she immediately established herself as something Athletes Unlimited Softball hadn’t seen before from a pitcher. In the draft, often captains go after securing two aces to start games but week after week Sandercock was drafted early and often because of her ability to enter any time into the game.
“It’s just different,” Sandercock explained. “You don’t really get a chance to feel out the umpire, feel out the strike zone, feel out the batters. That first inning, everybody is just getting into the game, but you come in the sixth or seventh, you don’t really have a lot of room for error because your team doesn’t have a lot more opportunities to score.”
Rookie @k_sandercock collected the first save of her professional career to garner MVP 3 recognition 🤩
The former @FSU_Softball star scattered three hits over the final three frames to finish with 166 leaderboard points.
— Athletes Unlimited (@AUProSports) July 30, 2023
That first outing was all the league needed to see about Sandercock’s cool demeanor in the circle that propelled her to get late-game outs. 2023 Champion and three-time captain Odicci Alexander knew Sandercock was someone she needed on her teams. Alexander chose Sandercock with her eighth pick in Week Three and her first overall pick for the final weekend of games. Outing after outing, they were a fierce staff to see back-to-back.
In Week Three, Sandercock was back where her competitive spirit and love for softball began. Ten years prior, Sandercock helped McLean Little League reach the 2013 Little League Softball World Series Championship. Now, she was competing at the first-ever Athletes Unlimited Pro games at the Little League Softball World Series in Greenville, NC.
Just like when she was a kid, her parents Colin and Trish were in the stands. And just like she had prepared for, she closed out the final three innings of the game. Sandercock entered after Alexander, throwing four innings and holding onto the tie. She shut down 16 straight batters. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Aliyah Andrews hit a walk-off single to secure the win for Team Alexander.
Going from Alexander to Sandercock gave batters a different look in the box; Alexander often throws hard and up while Sandercock throws hard and down. Her drop ball is her most effective and reliable pitch – perfect in relief because it helps keep the ball in the park and often results in ground outs from batters.
Sticking to what had gotten her to this point was something Sandercock heard from the veterans around her often.
“I think that when you come into pro league, especially as a rookie, you can get kind of caught up in trying to change your game to get these hitters out and try to throw to their weaknesses in a sense, rather than throw to your own strengths and know what you do well and just going out there and doing what you do best. So that’s been some advice that I’ve gotten that’s been really helpful.”
One learning curve she had to adjust to in the fast-paced environment of AU was overplanning. In college, scouting, spray charts, and watching film were a huge part of Sandercock’s preparation for games.
“I think I ended up psyching myself out a little bit just because all these batters are so good and they don’t have many holes in their swings,” Sandercock said. “It’s not very obvious how to attack a lot of these hitters because they’re pros. They’re really good.”
She shifted to thinking through what has worked – and not worked – against batters in the past. She relied more on trusting her memory and strategies of attack so she could take a different approach each time she faced a batter.
“I think for the most part, just trying not to overthink it has worked really well for me. Going out there with a competitive mindset instead of being so tuned into the scouting part of it … I’ve let that go in my game a little bit and I think that it’s actually benefited me.”
In her rookie season, Sandercock logged a 2.05 ERA and held opponents to just a 2.60 batting average. She finished 22nd overall on the final leaderboard with 12 appearances and a league-leading three saves.
“I like when it’s in my hands … That’s just so fun and I think that the teams that I’ve been on have really just trusted me in that role. But yeah, I like being Kat the closer.”
Savanna Collins is the Digital Media Reporter at Athletes Unlimited. You can follow her on Twitter @savannaecollins.
Recap: Team effort helps Team Zerkle defeat Team Mulipola 10-7
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
Aust's five goals lead Team Wood to thrilling win
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2021 / Credit: Kait Devir
Recap: Team Taylor surges to victory as Mulipola crushes late grand slam
© Athletes Unlimited, LLC 2023 / Credit: Jade Hewitt Media
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