Derr coming up aces for nationally-ranked Bears

By on April 25, 2012

By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer

As a college softball pitcher, Sam Derr’s approach has changed.

Her results have not.

While earning First-Team All-State honors and leading Warwick to the L-L League title and the PIAA playoffs as a senior in 2010, Derr struck out 248 batters in 167 innings.

This spring, as a sophomore at Kutztown University, the lefty star has twice as many innings pitched (163 1/3) as strikeouts (81).

"At this level, everybody throws as hard as I do now," Derr said, "and you don’t blow it past anybody, really. You get them to guess sometimes when you get strikeouts. And also, I think we were third last year in the PSAC in defense, so it’s just so easy to keep my pitch counts lower and get ground balls on the first pitch."

That formula has produced a 25-0 record, 0.47 ERA as the ace for a Golden Bears’ squad which is ranked fourth in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top-25 poll with a 43-2 record. She has pitched in 30 of KU’s 45 games this spring, with 20 starts, and she has 18 complete games while holding opponents to a weak .167 batting average. It was Derr’s seventh PSAC weekly award this season.

This week, Derr was named the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East Player of the Week after hitting .538 with seven hits and one home run, in addition to recording two wins as the Golden Bears went 3-1 in conference play against Shippensburg and East Stroudsburg to end the regular season. Shippensburg’s 1-0 win over KU last Friday, April 20 snapped the Golden Bears’ 33-game winning streak.

Two Saturdays ago in Millersville, KU clinched the PSAC East Division crown with a 2-1 win over the Marauders and then they completed the sweep with a 10-3 conquest in the nightcap. Derr, who has been named PSAC Pitcher of the Week five times this year, notched a complete-game decision in the opener with a two-hit, four-strikeout performance and then pitched 6 2/3 innings in relief for the win in the second game.

"It’s incredible to think you’re (fourth) in the country," Derr said, "but honestly each day, especially in the PSAC, it’s anybody’s game any day. We know that we have to come out hard every game. Basically, a target is on our back. Everybody wants to beat us because we’ve been undefeated in conference play."

MU had the lead in both games against Kutztown on Saturday, April 14, but Derr kept the Bears close and gave them a chance to rally. Derr acknowledged that last year, she might have been rattled a little bit if the opponent was hitting her. So having some experience at the college level has been a plus for Derr.

"Last year, I held my own, but I didn’t stand out or anything," she said. "Having a year under my belt really, really helped just for me maturing. I didn’t have the confidence I have now."

Having excellent chemistry with her battery-mate, KU junior Katie Lynch — a Lampeter-Strasburg grad — also really helps. The two former L-L stars knew of each other in high school, but then Lynch hosted Derr on a recruiting trip to Kutztown and assisted in making her transition to college a smooth one.

"(Katie) was really what got me to go to Kutztown," Derr said. "She told me the ins and outs of Kutztown and what the positives were and everything … She’s a great person and a great player and I’m just really glad she’s on my team rather than against me, like in high school."

In her Warwick days, Derr worked very well with catchers Megan Morales and Vanessa Mendez. She has now developed that same relationship with Lynch, with the two communicating very well together in terms of how to attack an opponent.

"She catches me basically every game," Derr said, "and we know exactly what each other is thinking on almost every pitch."

That’s not an easy feat, considering Derr has six pitches in her arsenal — fastball, changeup, curveball, screwball, rise ball and drop ball. Derr’s changeup was her bread and butter in high school, but she relies mostly on her curve at Kutztown.

"It goes in to right-handed batters and I get a lot of weak ground balls to our shortstop (Bri Knipe) and third baseman (Kelly Fitzgerald)," Derr said, "and every time a ground ball gets hit, I just know it’s going to be an out. It really cuts down in my pitch counts as well."

The only time that Derr will actually pitch for a strikeout is when she’s facing a lefty.

"I go all away from (left-handed batters)," Derr said, "because a lot of the lefties in college are slappers and they’re very, very quick and if they get it down, it’s almost impossible to field it (for an out)."

Derr, who has also started in center field when not pitching, is very quick in her own right out of the batter’s box. She currently owns a solid .384 average and she delivered the game-winning RBI in the top of the fourth inning in KU’s game one 2-1 win over Millersville. Marauders’ pitcher Alicia Hughes had retired nine straight before Heather Hannum stroked a one-out double to left-center. Lynch, who is batting .328 with 33 RBI’s (third-best for KU) in the fifth spot, followed with a single to center field. Knipe was next and she went down on strikes, but then Hannum scored the tying run on a passed ball.

"Once Heather scored on the passed ball, it made it a little easier because then it was tied," Derr said. "I just kinda relaxed. I knew our offense was going to get another run at some point."

Derr, batting seventh in the Golden Bears’ lineup, actually took care of driving in that run herself, delivering a Texas League RBI single into shallow center field with Lynch at third base to make it 2-1.

"(Hughes) was throwing me out, out, out and I didn’t try to do too much with it — I knew (the MU outfielders) were playing really back and it just fell in at the right time," said Derr, who has two home runs, 32 RBI’s, 13 doubles, 17 runs, and 43 hits in 112 at-bats.

From there, Derr retired the final 13 batters she faced to put the division-clinching win in the books. Although she hit a batter and walked one, she finished with just 71 pitches and threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 25 batters that she faced.

"My average is like 65 to 70 (pitches per game), pretty much," Derr said.

Kutztown headed into the PSAC Championship yesterday (Wednesday, April 25) as the No. 1 seed in the East division. KU was set to face third-seeded Mercyhurst University at Drifton Complex in Hazelton. The top three teams in the PSAC’s east, central and west divisions advanced to the dance.

The Regional and Super Regional playoffs will follow and then the NCAA Division-II World Series will be held in Kentucky.

"Our overall goal has always been (a national title) this year, just because we really recognize our talent on our team," Derr said. "But to focus on that if you’re playing a weaker team, that’s not really going to help. So basically, we take one game at a time." More DERR, page B-6

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