Before Cheridan Hawkins
met pitching coach Rich Balswick, the Anderson (Calif.)
softball team had a losing record. And Cheridan wasn't much more than a player who "wanted to pitch," but wasn't putting fear into any opposing batters.
During her freshman season, Hawkins struck out 84 and the Cubs won 9 of 28 games. As a sophomore, Hawkins had 223 strikeouts and the team was 11-19.
Then came "the real deal pitching coach," as AHS coach Charley Hawkins calls Balswick, a former All-American pitcher and now a full-time pitching coach. "He changed the way she pitched, the way she thought about pitching and gave her confidence she didn't have before."
After seven months of weekly pitching sessions and daily drills, Cheridan - and Anderson - took California's Northern Section by surprise in 2011. She struck out a Northern Section record 510 batters.
"He (Balswick) has given me confidence that I can throw my pitches and that I have the right spin.," said Cheridan. "It doesn't matter how fast you throw, it's all about spin and movement. Mechanics are the key. He led me to the right path to be successful."
Since she started seeing Balswick, Hawkins has struck out better than 60 percent of the batters she faces. The Cubs have won 53 of their last 61 games, including a 31-4 record in winning the Northern Section title in 2011.
In 28 games over the last two seasons, the 5-11 Hawkins has struck out 16 or more in a game with a high of 22.
Her stats are staggering. In winning 31 games a year ago, she pitched 19 shutouts and needed only 221 innings to strike out 510 batters - tops in California and second in the nation. Her strikeout-per-game ratio of 16.15 led all 2011 high school pitchers. She also batted .471 and averaged nearly an RBI per game.
"It seemed like it came out of nowhere," said coach Hawkins. "It happened so fast, but she worked hard to make it happen. She worked every week with Balswick and every day on drills. She didn't face a batter for seven months."
Coach Hawkins also doubles as Cheridan's dad. And biggest supporter. Every Thursday for seven months, he drove Cheridan three hours each way for her hour-long appointments with Balswick.
Balswick said "Cheridan is possibly the most diligent worker I've ever coached. Certainly a key to her success has been her work ethic."
Hawkins pitched every day of the week, usually throwing 200 balls into a screen.
Some of Balswick's past clients include UCLA's three-time All-American Angelica "Jelly" Selden, Jessica Moore (Oregon), USA team player Val Arioto (Cal), Erin Arevalo (Georgia) and Michelle Gascoigne (Oklahoma) to name just a few.
"She continues to be one of the top strikeout pitchers in the country," said Balswick.
Hawkins has 355 strikeouts in 161 innings this season, an average of 15.5 per game. Opposing batters are hitting just .087 against her, down from .092 a year ago. Her ERA is 0.59, down from 0.79 last year. She's also hitting .593 with a team high 35 RBIs and 15 doubles in 26 games. Her on-base percentage is .607, slugging percentage .847.
As a result, Anderson is 23-5 and rated a good bet to repeat as Northern Section champions.
"That's our major goal," said Hawkins. "We want to win league, then win the section title again."
Another of Hawkins' preseason goals was to break her section record of 510 strikeouts. With weather postponing several games, that goal is unlikely. If Anderson runs the table and repeats, the maximum number of games Hawkins could pitch would be six. At 16 strikeouts per game, she could end with 440, maybe 450.
"But the main goal is the (league and section) titles and I feel like we've worked hard as a team to win," said Hawkins. "And in games we lost, we worked hard the next day. We've learned from the losses, as well as the wins."
In one 19-inning stretch this season, Hawkins struck out a total of 48 batters while allowing just two hits and earning three wins. Among those three games was a 2-0 win over Foothill (Palo Cedro) in which she struck out 22 and allowed just one hit.
Since meeting Balswick, the accolades have been many for Hawkins. As a junior, she was tabbed the Northern Athletic League MVP and Northern Section Pitcher of the Year. Among other notable 2011 honors, she was the MaxPreps Small Schools Player of the Year. In club action, her Strike Zone Elite club placed fifth in the 2011 Premier National Fastpitch Tournament in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Hawkins consistently pitches in the mid-60s and throws a rise, curve/slider, peel drop, change and screw. When in doubt, she throws her rise ball.
It was the rise ball that caught Oregon coach Mike White's attention and the Duck coach was quick to sign Hawkins.
"Adding a left-hander who can throw a riseball will complement our pitching staff," said White.
The ace of the Oregon staff is junior Jessica Moore, another Northern California product. Until Hawkins struck out 510 in 2011, the Northern Section record was held by Moore, who struck out 504 as a senior at Sutter High School.
Considered a late bloomer, Hawkins wasn't recruited until late her junior season. Though San Diego looked good, Oregon "was it pretty much from the start.
"It's been my dream to play in the PAC-12," said Hawkins, who has a 3.8 grade point average. "It's close too home and coaches (Lisa) Dodd and White are just great people and coaches."
She plans to study human physiology at Oregon and eventually become a nurse practitioner.
Coach Hawkins says hard work has keyed his daughter's success.
"She has a unique name and she is lefthanded," said the coach. "She believes the harder she works the better she will get. There is no substitute for hard work. We believe that ‘hard work will out do athleticism when athleticism doesn't work hard."
Work ethic in the Hawkins family might have started with Charley. He was a college noseguard for four years. A bit of a late-bloomer himself, Hawkins went out for wrestling for the first time as a senior in high school. After losing his first match of the season as a heavyweight, he won the rest of his matches that year and captured the CIF state championship. His oldest daughter, Natasha, played at San Jose State.
"Both my Dad and Natasha inspire me and motivate me to be the best I can be," said Hawkins. "They've always been there for me and Dad has gotten me everything I've needed to be successful."
This summer, Hawkins will play for the California Sorcerers, one of the top U-18 teams in the country.
"It will be exciting to see her continue to mature," said White, noting that the Sorcerers are located in Concord, Calif.
As is her "real deal" pitching coach.