Caira remains bright spot on grim rotation
As she watched her team’s two-run lead dissolve after consecutive fielding errors in the third inning Sunday, Syracuse pitcher Jenna Caira knew she had to say something. She called her teammates to the mound for a conference and completely changed the tone of the game.
‘I just said that we had to relax,’ Caira said. ‘We had to ignore everything that just happened. It’s all in the past, and we had to move on.’
This was exactly the message her team needed to hear. The Orange held Providence scoreless for the rest of the game and scored five runs in the next two innings to win 10-2.
Caira’s words of wisdom were backed up by her three dominant pitching performances this weekend. The sophomore appeared in all three games for SU and registered both of the team’s wins. In winning four of her last five starts, Caira is quickly becoming the leader that head coach Leigh Ross has been searching for to push the team (19-16, 5-3 Big East) beyond .500 territory. Especially with recent struggles plaguing SU’s other pitchers, senior Brittany Gardner and freshman Stacy Kuwik
‘They respect Jenna (Caira) so much because of the person that she is, not just because she can get it done on the mound,’ Ross said. ‘To show that leadership is something that I kind of expect from Jenna to see more of.’
Of the 17 innings the Orange played this weekend — two of the games were shortened due to the mercy rule — Caira pitched 11 of them. She allowed six total hits and just two earned runs.
By using a clever combination of pitches, she was able to keep hitters off-balance throughout her time in the circle. She and catcher Lacey Kohl used an overpowering dropball to set up her out pitch: the change-up.
Ross calls Caira’s change-up one of the best in college softball, and this weekend was no exception. Caira said there were times when she threw her change-up on three consecutive pitches. She had 16 strikeouts over the course of the three games, and seven of them came courtesy of the off-speed pitch.
‘My change-up was working,’ Caira said. ‘They were jumping on that and swinging, so I just kept throwing it. Lacey (Kohl) did a great job calling the game back there. She just kept them on their toes, and they didn’t know what to expect.’
Perhaps most impressive about her performance is that it came on a weekend in which the rest of the pitching staff didn’t have its best stuff. Gardner and Kuwik combined to allow seven earned runs Saturday in their only five innings of work this weekend.
Gardner’s struggles on Saturday seemed to carry over from her last start against Georgetown. On April 2 against the Hoyas, she surrendered five earned runs while walking six batters on the way to the loss.
‘For now, she is going to be throwing some cleanup innings here and there, getting some confidence back in herself,’ Ross said. ‘I think yesterday was really hard on her.’
As a result, more of the leadership responsibility falls on Caira’s shoulders. Just a sophomore, she now has the dual role of staff ace and mentor. While Gardner continues to struggle, Stacy Kuwik, a freshman, steps in as the No. 2 starter. Kuwik has appeared on the mound in just 14 games this season, but much more will be expected from her down the stretch.
And the team will look to Caira to lead the way down the stretch.
‘She has a good presence on the field, and she can lead by example,’ SU assistant coach Angela Tincher said. ‘You have to know when to say things and kind of slow things down. We have a young team overall, so we need some of our younger players to step up and be leaders.’
After the game, Caira smiled when asked about how her arm felt after 11 innings of work this weekend. She said she was off to visit the trainer but that she relishes the opportunity to be the No. 1 pitcher.
‘I’m happy with how I’m doing right now,’ she said. ‘I’m hitting my spots and getting ahead in the count, so hopefully I can keep doing that and moving forward. I’ve been taking care of my arm, so I’m OK. I love pitching and whenever (the coaches) want to give me the ball, I’ll take it.’
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