Some baseball and softball pitchers have their careers end because of an injury.
Seneca High School softball junior pitcher Eliza Sweet’s career began following an injury.
“I started pitching when I was either 7 or 8,” Sweet said. “I broke my arm. I had an accident where I fell off a zip line. I just wanted to prove that after physical therapy and everything, I could come back and do something cool.”
Nearly 10 years later, Sweet is the ace for Seneca. Her pinpoint command and arsenal of pitches helped her strike out more than 100 hitters last season and pitch back-to-back shutouts in the 2015 South Jersey Group III tournament for Seneca. As a sophomore in 2015, she was one of four pitchers named to the All-Olympic Conference first team.
Sweet’s success can be attributed to her command and ability to throw strikes. In Sweet’s first five starts of 2016, she walked just five batters and struck out 25, despite pitching almost every inning for the Golden Eagles in those games.
Sweet’s command didn’t develop overnight. She began learning to pitch at Indian Mills softball at a clinic softball director Kim Albertson ran. It took Sweet about two to three years from when she started pitching just to consistently throw flat fastballs over the plate for strikes. From there, it took an additional two to three years to learn how to consistently throw well-placed moving pitches.
“It was very difficult,” Sweet said. “If you ask my coach Kim or my dad, they’ll tell people ‘Oh yeah, she used to hit the ceiling.’ I had a lot of difficulty controlling the ball, but I think I overcame that.”
Today, Sweet has two pitching coaches. One is Tom Besser from Elite Fastpitch Inc. The other is Stacy Jackson, Sweet’s coach with her travel team, South Jersey Mystics. Sweet credited both of them with helping her become the pitcher she is today.
Sweet’s ability to control pitches isn’t due to anything she does differently with her mechanics compared to other high school pitchers.
“It’s all mental,” Sweet said. “If I throw a ball, I try to focus again so I can throw a strike and get back. The support from everyone else on the field helps me to push the strikes.”
Sweet can throw a variety of moving pitches, including multiple variations of a curveball and screwball. Sweet places her curveball in different locations based on the batter’s count. Sweet uses her screwball to help keep hitters off balance.
“Screwballs I like to use because it gets a lot of foul balls, especially when you throw it up and in, you get a lot of foul balls into the backstop,” Sweet said. “It’s hard to get around on that.”
“It’s a lot of where you put your hip,” Sweet said about locating her pitches. “If you put your hip a quarter-inch to the inside, then it’s going to go to the inside. If you point it a quarter-inch to the outside, it will go outside.”
The one area where Sweet is focused on improving is finishing strikeouts.
“A lot of times, I get two strikes and I struggle to get that swing and miss,” she said. “I could save my arm a lot if I could throw less pitches and if I could get further ahead and strike them out.”
Sweet is only a little more than halfway through her high school career, but she already knows where she is going to college. She plans to attend The College of New Jersey beginning in the fall of 2017.
“They have a great engineering program there and I love the coach, Sally Miller,” Sweet said. “She’s great and a very fun and skilled person. It’ll be a great way to finish off my years of softball and start off my life in engineering.”
Moving forward in 2016, Sweet is hopeful Seneca can make a deep playoff run. The Golden Eagles started the season with a 4–2 record. Sweet’s pitching has kept Seneca competitive in most of their games.
“We’re a very young team,” Sweet said. “We’re bound to make mistakes. We can definitely be further ahead, but I don’t have any worries about the future.”