By Dalton Ray —
Softball entered 2018 with only one established pitcher in junior Megan Hensley. Coach Sandy Pearsall restocked the bullpen with four potential pitchers, and one has emerged in freshman Danielle Watson.
“I just kind of fell into a role with me and Meg sharing time,” Watson said.
While she calls it “falling into a role,” Watson is excelling. Her impact isn’t just noticed in the Louisville, but in the ACC. With a 13-7 record, she is tied for fourth in the conference in wins.
Watson went from a high school star to an ACC standout in a calendar year.
“It’s definitely a lot different,” Watson said. “You have to take it a pitch at a time. You can’t go inning-by-inning because everyone can hit the ball. You have to fine tune things better.”
She spent her high school career at Penn in Osceola, Indiana. Watson racked up quite the high school career, earning three all-state first team selections as well as a USA Today All-USA high school team selection.
The Indiana native had options to play at several schools, but Louisville provided the rare opportunity of playing close to home for a Power Five school.
Despite the Cardinals not having an established pitching rotation, Watson wasn’t sold the idea of coming in and taking the lead pitching. Instead, she sees her performance as an expectation.
“That’s the goal no matter where you go. Even if that wasn’t something I was thinking about, it was in the back of my head that I want to play all four years,” Watson said.
The Cardinals rely heavily on the freshman as she leads the team in starts and overall appearances. She is not only stepping up to the call, but excelling.
Watson’s ERA of 2.53 is seventh in the ACC with pitchers with at least 10 wins. She is 10th in the conference with 90 strikeouts.
The speed of the game the biggest difference from high school to college according to Watson, which has been her biggest challenge.
“(I have to) to slow things down and go one pitch at a time … you have to realize you’re in charge of the game, you’ve got the ball and go at your pace,” Watson said.
The physical aspect of the game is also an adjustment for Watson.
“You have to take a lot more time for recovery, which you have less time for in the day. So that’s something I’ve had to step my game up at,” Watson said.
Watson’s confidence is instilled by the coaching staff and she has trust in her abilities as well as her teammates.
Confidence can wavier as a freshman. With the new level of competition, changes to their daily schedule and everything else that comes with becoming a high-level student-athlete, it’s not for everyone. When those moments come along, that’s when the upperclassmen step in.
“Jenna (Jordan) and Megan (Hensley) do a really good job of keeping me up and giving me good advice. They keep me where I need to be … and allow me to get better,” Watson said.
Hensley, who won 15 games as a freshman, knows the situation Watson is in. Having a player share the same experience with Watson has helped the freshman grow throughout the year.
Louisville has a month left to play, but Watson already has her carved out in the record books. With 13 wins, she is tied for fourth-most wins as a freshman in school history. Caralisa Connell recorded 20 wins as a freshman in 2011.
You can follow Dalton Ray on Twitter @dray5477.
Photo by Taris Smith / The Louisville Cardinal