Tandem of Trevecca pitchers tough it out in pursuit of a softball title

Wednesday, May 9, 2012 at 10:10pm

Ben Tyree quickly learned reasoning with his two star pitchers was out of the question.

Halfway through this season, Trevecca Nazarene seniors Lauren Baker and Riley Mashburn both started to experience pain in their right shoulders. Tyree, in his fourth season as head coach, wanted to lessen their workload.

Baker and Mashburn did not want to hear it.

“A couple times in the year we had to back down and just say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to sit down and rest a little bit,’” Tyree said. “But they didn’t want to. They want to keep playing. Luckily they’ve made the adjustments and they might have had to change their pitch a little bit but they’ve been very successful.”

Downplaying their injuries, which Tyree says more than likely will require surgery, Baker and Mashburn lead the Trojans into the National Christian College Athletic Association National Championships in Botetourt, Va. Trevecca opens the eight-team, double-elimination tournament against Judson (Ill.) University at 11 a.m. on Thursday.

The Trojans (35-14-1) are playing in their sixth national tournament in seven years. The previous five came in the NAIA, which Trevecca left to join the NCAA Division II. The NCCAA solely offers postseason tournaments.

It marks the third straight national tournament for Baker and Mashburn – a right-handed pair who have combined for 128 victories and 968 strikeouts in four years.

“I just realized it was my senior year and I told our [athletic] trainer Stephanie [Scott] to take me off the injured list,” Mashburn said. “Because I’m going to go out as hard as I can. I’m not going to sit out. There is pain. But you learn to have to play through it. I didn’t want to look back on the season and my last memories were sitting out of practice.”

This season, however, their win totals dipped.

Baker, a Hendersonville native, is 13-5 after an NAIA All-American campaign in which she posted a 25-1 mark in 2011. Though her velocity may have dipped – she has nearly 70 less strikeouts this year – her ERA actually imrproved to 1.65 from 1.82 last year.

Mashburn, a Father Ryan product, is 12-7 with a 3.38 ERA. Last year, she was 21-3 with a 1.88 ERA.

The duo has also pitched in six fewer games, which can be attributed to the arm injuries and the rise of sophomore Natalie Papini. The Tennessee State transfer, who also battled an injury, is 10-2 with a 1.64 ERA. She started just nine games, offering relief for Baker and Mashburn and setting the single-season school record for saves with seven.

“I’ve tried to let them go as far as they can and let Natalie come in for the last inning or two,” Tyree said. “Over the season that takes away a little bit of the innings they’ve had to throw. Natalie has been a super player to come in here. Next year she may be the Riley or Lauren of this staff.”

Mashburn hasn’t evaluated the severity of her injury yet and notices more pain when she throws overhand. Baker received cortisone shots to cope with the pain and underwent an MRI on Monday. She expects to know if she’ll need surgery by next week.

The injuries are similar and the initial diagnosis is either a torn labrum or strained rotator cuff.

“I think it is from wear and tear. I’m getting old,” Baker joked. “It is not affecting my pitching. It just could affect me in the long term. It is something we looked into and it is not a big deal. I can finish out this season.”

Even with the injuries and necessary tweaks to delivery and strides, Tyree described the duo’s pitching as “90 percent effective.”

Possessing grit and determination, the senior leaders have helped the Trojans shake off a 7-8 start and win 28 of their last 35 games.

Now their sights are set on claiming the program’s first national championship.

“They know this is it,” Tyree said. “They’re not going to go play in the Olympics. They’ve had a great career. They’ve kept Trevecca on the map. They’ve enjoyed it. They’re very competitive and they want to go as far as they can go.”