St. Paul freshman takes the mound after injury to starting pitcher
Gracie Koch had high expectations coming into the 2022 spring athletic season.
The St. Paul sophomore threw every game of the COVID-shortened 2021 season and came into this spring looking to build on her experience on the mound. But if anything over the past two years has shown, not everything goes according to plan.
Two weeks into the season, the two-sport spring athlete finds herself on the sideline with her throwing arm wrapped in a cast.
"I was running the hurdles in practice and my foot just clipped the back," Koch said. "I used my arms to brace myself and my wrist broke."
The sophomore was a member of the Buckaroos' state champion 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams last spring in addition to earning medals in the 100-meter dash and the 100 hurdles. The injury would appear to be a significant blow to Koch, along with the softball and track and field programs. But the Bucks are blessed with extraordinary youth and depth this year, and freshman Amelia Cavazos was more than willing to fill the void in the pitcher's circle.
"It's nice to know I get a chance to pitch," Cavazos said. "At the beginning of the season, I didn't think I was going to pitch because they already had their set of girls."
Although Cavazos boasts pitching experience from playing tournament softball in the summer, she came into the season as an infielder, expecting Koch to eat up the majority of the innings.
"She's probably one of the more experienced freshmen coming in, which helps especially on the mound," St. Paul softball coach Carl Kordenat said.
Cavalos earned her first start on March 30 in a 13-12 victory at Gervais. She followed with a 19-9 win in six innings over visiting Faith Bible on Friday. The wins were the first of the season for the Buckaroos, improving the team to 2-3 overall and 1-1 in league play.
"It's a big load for a freshman to come out and pitch a varsity game," Kordenat said. "Coming in as a freshman, this is back-to-back wins for her, and I think that'll help her down the road once we get Gracie healthy and we get other people stepping in."
Koch knows a thing or two about being a first-year starting varsity pitcher and echoed Kordenat's praise.
"I'm totally sympathizing with her," Koch said. "It's really hard being a freshman and having to pitch all the innings and just knowing that right now, you don't have a backup if you're struggling."
Cavazos keeps a steady head on the mound. Compared to the rigors of tournament softball, high school hasn't been daunting thus far.
"It's really thrilling to be up there and I feel like being a pitcher for school ball, you can do all sorts of stuff you want," Cavazos said. "Different pitches, change-ups, and it's not as serious as tournament."
The freshman is no slouch at the plate either. Batting second in the lineup against Faith Bible, Cavazos went 3-of-4 with three runs, three RBIs, a walk and taking a pitch to the side. The highlight of the game came on a deep fly ball to left centerfield in the fourth inning, which she turned into an inside-the-park home run.
"She's pretty solid at the plate," Kordenat said. "She got a hold of that one, and it was nice to see."
With Cavazos holding down the fort, it makes Koch's recovery that much easier to bear. The sophomore will continue to be a steady presence in the dugout, splitting time between both spring programs. Koch expects to continue running with the track team as early as next week, and with a recovery timetable of four to six weeks, she should be ready to return to both sports full time before the end of the season.
"We still have two weeks into May that I'll be able to go into, and the last week of April I'll be able to make and hopefully get back to where I was." Koch said. "I think I could get back to pitching."
In the meantime, Koch is eager to help coach Cavazos and impart her wisdom from being a former freshman starter.
"I keep reminding her that she needs the push and the mental strength to keep going, and knowing the rest of the team has her back," Koch said. "She's amazing, especially as a freshman."
BY THE NUMBERS
St. Paul freshman Amelia Cavazos delivered on the mound and the plate in Friday's 19-9 win over Faith Bible.
3 earned runs
3 hits (single, double, home run)
1 hit by pitch
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