The suspension of spring sports came at the worst time for the Linden softball team.
The Lions were 7-3 through 10 games, and head coach Mark Miller said their star pitcher, junior Hannah Ortega, was just hitting her stride.
In Ortega’s last two appearances of the season, she struck out 21 batters and allowed just one run in wins against Stagg and Franklin.
"You could totally see a difference in the velocity and my spin on the ball," she said.
In her third season on Linden’s softball team, Ortega has been the steady pitching force in the middle of the Lions’ defense. And she was poised for another big year before the season was cut short.
"I’ve been blessed with some outstanding people. She’s a competitor and she’s a team player," Miller said. "You put those two things together and you got a winner."
In her first two season at Linden, Ortega collected 40 wins and 380 strikeouts in 61 pitching appearances. That success continued into this season, where she added five more wins before the spring sports season was suspended due to coronavirus exposure concerns.
"I try to be perfect,"Ortega said. "Just to hit my spot to get ground balls for my defense."
That mindset on the mound helped lead Linden to two deep section playoff runs in Ortega’s freshman and sophomore year. And this season, she added production at the plate.
Ortega said she used to bat near the bottom of Linden’s lineup. But Miller moved her up near the top of the batting order this season.
"I’ve started focusing more on my hitting so I can perform better and keep my spot," Ortega said.
Miller said he thought this could have been the year the Lions finally take the section title, due to Ortega’s pitching and her newfound hitting success.
When her season got suspended, ending that section title dream, Ortega said she had a feeling it was coming, but not as quickly as it did.
With her junior season lost, Ortega has a full offseason to improve on the mound and the plate. And for her opponents, that spells more trouble.
"I feel like this year we could have had a good chance at winning sections," Ortega said. "For myself, I strive to be better than I was before, so I thought I would pass myself and my stats from the years before.
"Since our year is probably not going to resume, it just gives me motivation to make up for what we lost."
Contact reporter Justin Frommer at (209) 546-8272 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinbFrommer.