Softball

Pitcher Abby Thibodeau now spends more time using her surprising speed on the basepaths

Eddie Natal | Staff Photographer

The right-handed pitcher had a 0.32 ERA as a senior in high school, but she never pinch ran.

Abby Thibodeau entered her first practice at Syracuse as a pitcher only. After 16 sprints across the width of the football field she exited Manley Fieldhouse with a new title: pinch runner. Although she was recruited by Syracuse for her off-speed pitches, the freshman separated herself from her teammates with her legs.

“We saw her in the fall and she was winning every race we had,” said Syracuse head coach Mike Bosch. “… The fact that she can run that well, you can’t ignore it.”

Thibodeau comes to the team following an impressive season with the Lake Braddock Secondary School (Virginia) in which she posted a 0.32 earned run average. The right-handed pitcher batted .328 as a senior in high school, but she never pinch ran. In high school, Thibodeau was restricted from pinch running because of her pitching duties.

On Syracuse’s (3-2, 0-0 Atlantic Coast) opening weekend trip to Athens, Georgia, Thibodeau pitched only one-third of an inning while she appeared twice as a pinch runner. She’ll be a threat on the base paths when the Orange participates in the Florida Atlantic tournament this weekend.

“(Pinch running) was really different. I’ve never been put in that scenario,” Thibodeau said. “I hit in high school but I knew I wasn’t going to hit here. Once I got put on the bases it was just a whole different thing.”

The practice after dominating her “gasser” conditioning test, Thibodeau found herself in the midst of the team’s base running drills. Outside of senior utility player Sydney O’Hara, Thibodeau was the only pitcher on the base paths for independent base running.

As a pitcher all her life, she never focused on sliding. In an inter-squad scrimmage the week before Syracuse’s first game, coaches forced Thibodeau to repeatedly run from second base and slide into third. At first the slides were awkward but slowly she began to figure it out.

“It was so funny,” O’Hara said. “She’s never base-run in her life. But it was good seeing her get out of her comfort zone and trying something new.”

Once the coaches focused on her role as a pinch runner, they realized the inefficiency in Thibodeau’s running form. The player who is always doing extra work, according to coach Bosch, shifted focus to her arm action. By syncing up the motion of her arms and legs and keeping each in opposition she found herself moving faster from base to base.

The focus on her running form led to improvements on the base path. In independent base running, a drill used to isolate on base running skills and throws from outfielders, Thibodeau thrived. She learned to cheat off the bag more than usual and test her teammates in the outfield.

In the drill, the runners are supposed to run as if they are only runner on base. This has led to the speedster sometimes taking multiple bags and also running past her teammates.

Thibodeau was thrown out trying to advance bases in each of her two appearances on the base paths this past weekend. But if winning every running competition to start the year is any indication, her raw speed may eventually pay off.

“She can go from second to home second or third fastest from anybody,” Bosch said. “So if we are in a situation in the seventh inning and I need somebody at second base that can simply just run, she is going to do that.”

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