Should the No. 22-ranked Gannon University softball team continue the torrid pace that it has set the first 23 games of the season, senior pitcher Megan Dragon might have to miss graduation in order to compete in the NCAA postseason.
That’s fine with her.
On the mound, the mechanical engineering major might as well have a Ph.D.
Dragon and fellow senior Erica Bartholow, along with sophomore Jess Rectenwald, make up one of the most formidable — and diverse — pitching staffs in the PSAC.
It is a luxury to have such a variety of arms at his disposal, said Gannon coach Tom Jakubowski.
“Everyone brings a different personality to the table and it’s nice because that gives us a lot of different options,” Jakubowski said of Gannon’s rotation.
While this year’s staff ranks second in the PSAC West with an ERA around 2.50, the same group produced an even better mark of 2.28 in 2012.
The trio’s consistency over the past two seasons have made their dominance seem routine, Gannon’s trio has been a long time in the making.
“I’ve been pitching since I was 8 years old,” said Dragon, who has been Gannon’s ace for the last four of them. “My dad instilled in me from a young age that winning, is basically all there is.”
That’s been the case for the most part this season for the right-handed Dragon, who is 10-2 with a 1.95 ERA.
Tuesday was the exception, however, when Edinboro University handed Gannon its only conference losses of the season when it managed the game’s only three runs off Dragon in the sixth inning in game one of a doubleheader. Bartholow and Rectenwald fared little better in the nightcap, combining to allow a season-high 11 runs in an 11-8 loss. Gannon fell to 19-4 overall and 4-2 in PSAC West play.
The loss likely didn’t sit well with Dragon, as they rarely ever do.
“When I’m out there, I try to strike everyone out,” she said.
“She brings a total bulldog mentality to the mound. She just refuses to back down from anyone,” Jakubowski said. “She is one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever coached.”
A surgeon on the mound, Dragon features an arsenal of six pitches that she can throw at any time.
“She doesn’t throw as hard as probably 50 percent of the conference, but she’s got a killer rise ball and outstanding control,” Jakubowski said.
The distinction of power pitcher goes to Bartholow. With a fastball topping out at 63 miles per hour, Jakubowski also uses Bartholow in relief situations, a role which he said she’s comfortable with.
“It takes a different kind of mentality to come out of the bullpen and have to finish what somebody else has started, but she’s unique in that she’s sometimes a little more at ease when she’s not starting,” he said of Bartholow, who leads the team with three saves to go along with an undefeated 6-0 record.
Manning the third slot in the rotation, Rectenwald has a different mentality altogether.
A center fielder by trade, the sophomore would just as soon track down fly balls than take the mound.
“Center is my position,” said Rectenwald, who also bats third in Gannon’s lineup. “I’ll throw if they ask me to.”
But with a 2-1 record to go along with a 3.12 ERA, Jakubowski has already named Rectenwald Gannon’s opening day starter for 2014.
“At first, I didn’t like pitching but as I’ve gotten more experience, I’ve accepted that it’s something I have to do,” Rectenwald said.
Gannon has called on the left-handed Rectenwald to make the short walk from the outfield to the rubber several times this year.
A basketball player in high school, Jakubowski said Rectenwald is the best athlete on the team who is still learning to pitch.
“When she is locating down in the zone, it’s hard to put a ball in play off her,” he said. “Just like any young pitcher, she sometimes has to work on her control.”
Rectenwald relies mainly on her changeup and uses a curveball that cuts in on right-handers.
She credits Dragon and Bartholow for teaching her the ropes as the junior member of the staff.
“Megan has been great, teaching me a rise ball and Erica has been there just to help me keep my head on straight,” she said. “We all respect each other as individuals.”
Gannon’s pitching prowess has not gone unnoticed by the PSAC, who named Dragon pitcher of the week again Monday.
Dragon has done all this while battling shoulder soreness for much of the season, though she said her condition is improving.
“I’m going to play so it was just a matter of toughening it up,” Dragon said.
She didn’t want to leave where she’s most happy.
“When I’m out there pitching,” Dragon said, “I’ve never felt so comfortable.”