In baseball, the strikeout is the mark of dominance for a pitcher. Hurlers who average just one per inning are considered among the most dominant in the game; anything more is icing on the cake, so to speak.
On Sunday, Oxford’s Taylor Jaszewski accomplished a feat that few pitchers in baseball history can claim: five strikeouts in one inning.
“I would have been happy to get five through the whole game,” remarked Jaszewski afterwards, “But that’s baseball. Weird things happen.”
Fortunately for Oxford, Jaszewski more than exceeded his own expectations on Sunday afternoon. the St Anne’s visiting student twirling five nearly spotless innings and recording eleven strikeouts to propel Oxford to a completegame 4-2 victory in the opening game of a doubleheader over the University of Southampton before giving way to Alex Butcher-Nesbitt of Lady Margaret Hall, who turned in a similarly dominant performance to lead Oxford to a 7-5 game two victory to complete the sweep.
Superior pitching performances notwithstanding, team captain Tim Goodman was quick to spread the credit around. “Ultimately, it was the performance of the entire team that gave us both games,” said Goodman.
The first game was a tense affair from the start, as the two squads failed to score in each of the first two innings while combining for ten strikeouts. In the third, Oxford broke the deadlock with a pair of runs to open the scoring for the season. Determined to protect the lead, Jaszewski took the mound in the bottom of the inning with as devastating an arsenal as ever. Unfortunately, his curveball, which he unveiled in earnest for the first time in the third, occasionally proved to be too much even for catcher Gareth Langley. Two third strikes evaded Langley, an outfielder playing his first game as catcher, in the inning, allowing a pair of fortunate Southampton runners to reach base.
Overall, the miscues were little more than aberrations for Langley, who is beginning his fifth year with the team and enjoyed an extremely successful debut behind the plate. “The biggest thing [about catching] is having to be on it mentally at all times,” said Langley. The actual catching the ball part was ok for the most part.
Eager to capitalize on their good fortune, Southampton ran the bases aggressively and tied the score, though Jaszewski managed to strand the potential go-ahead run at third base.
The score remained tied until the top of the fifth. Here, Jaszewski led off with a walk; two outs later, he had advanced to third. The situation demanded a clutch hit, and Natalie Dixon provided it with a shallow bloop into right field that scored Jaszewski and gave Oxford a lead they would not relinquish.
After a short break, Oxford picked up right where they left off in the top of the first in game two. A walk and a double by Jaszewski put two runners in scoring position just six pitches into the game; one out later, sharp line drive single up the middle by Langley plated both runners, giving Oxford an early 2-0 lead that became three by the inning’s end.
From there, Butcher-Nesbitt took things into his capable hands, shutting down Southampton on just one run over four quality innings of work. Butcher-Nesbitt’s only rough patch came in the third, when he loaded the bases with just one out and seemed to be struggling to locate anything over the plate. Fortunately, the solution proved surprisingly simple.
“I stopped worrying about the baserunners… They were just distractions for me” explained Butcher-Nesbitt, who focused instead on righting his delivery to the plate. “It seemed to put me the right zone, and I found the glove again.”
Butcher-Nesbitt’s crafty moundwork allowed Oxford to escape the inning with a tworun cushion still intact. From there, Oxford steadily built on their advantage, tacking on a run in the fourth and three more in the fifth to take a seemingly insurmountable lead into the bottom of the final frame.
But the final frame was not without drama. His pitching done for the day, Butcher-Nesbitt departed for a relief pitcher – the author of this article. Unfortunately, I proved utterly incapable of finding the strike zone and retired after allowing four Southampton hitters to reach base, all of whom eventually came around to score.
With the lead narrowed and the pressure building, Goodman came on to attempt his first career save. After allowing the inherited runners to score, calmly retired three straight hitters on a pair of grounders and a pop-up, all to Dixon at short, to seal the victory.
“It was a bit stressful,” admitted Goodman when the game was over. “The defence made all the plays behind me.”
With two wins under their belt, Oxford now look forward to a southern showdown against Imperial College in just over a week’s time.
Goodman, for one, believes the momentum can carry over. “Hopefully we can keep this up and do very well in the league this year,” he concluded.