Thirteen days ago, Hayley Smalley was on fire.
The Columbus East sophomore pitcher threw the game of her life. She shut out Class 4A then-No. 2 Jennings County for nine innings before allowing a run in the 10th in a 1-0 loss.
Smalley hopes to rekindle that form — and get a little offensive support — tonight when the Olympians and Panthers meet again at Jennings County in the opening round of the Hoosier Hills Conference Tournament.
“Knowing the way I pitched against them that one time, when they beat us by one, I hope to pitch better,” Smalley said. “We need constant hitting. If everybody hits well toward the end of the season, we’ll be fine.”
Smalley’s emergence in the circle this season has been a main reason why East has already matched last year’s win total with four.
“She’s definitely improved in a lot of aspects of her pitching,” sophomore catcher Elyse Babb said. “She’s gotten more accurate, and she’s learned to relax herself in situations that might go in favor of the other team.”
This season, Smalley, who throws in the low 60s, is 4-9 with a 4.45 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 89-2/3 innings.
“I expected a lot out of Hayley this year, and that’s what I told her,” East coach Sonny Stahl said. “She came out to conditioning and worked hard. She knew I expected a lot out of her, and she has shown me that she wants it.
“Coming in as a freshman, she wasn’t used to the high school (game), and she worked hard, lost weight, and she’s so much stronger and faster, not only with her arm, but running and everything,” she said.
Babb credits much of Smalley’s improvement to communication between the pitcher and catcher.
“In past years, she’s been kind afraid to shake me off when I call a pitch that maybe she doesn’t like,” Babb said. “Now, she’s actually saying ‘I don’t want to throw that. Let’s throw something else. Let’s try other things.’
“As a catcher, I don’t know before she starts pitching whether she feels good about a pitch or bad about a pitch unless she communicates, and now, she’s getting a lot better at communicating with me,” she said. “We’re more connected as a pitcher and catcher.”
“Elyse has been calling a great game, and Hayley has been hitting her spots, and that’s what it takes,” Stahl said. “It takes that tandem teamwork.”
Smalley has done the job at the plate, as well. She leads the team with 16 RBIs and ranks second on the squad behind Babb with a .352 batting average.
In the Olympians’ most recent outing, a 9-1 win over Madison on Tuesday, Smalley went 2 for 4 with her first home run of the season and three RBIs.
“I feel like I’ve been hitting it harder than what I was before because I’ve been going to a hitting coach every once in awhile,” Smalley said. “I’ve had my slumps, but I practice and try to fix what I’m doing wrong.”
Smalley, who plays travel softball with Ed Loweth and Indiana Nitro, hopes to play in college. She attended a camp at Butler, the school to which Babb is committed.
“Any college that wants me, I would gladly play for,” Smalley said. “But I have to work for it. It’s not just given to you.”