Through 13 games to start the softball season, a large part of the team’s offense is running through Hailey Arteaga.
The junior from Upland, Calif. is having a torrid opening to the campaign. To start the season, Arteaga has a .447 average through 38 at-bats, which equates to 17 hits. For players on the team with 15 at bats or more, the next best is Jaden Tate, who is hitting .296 in 27 plate appearances. Arteaga also leads the team with 10 RBIs.
As she has faced more collegiate pitchers over the course of her career, Arteaga has been able to refine her style to lead to this success. Making contact, especially in softball with the mound so close, is no easy task, but Arteaga makes it look easy by simply being patient.
“When we first started games, basically I just came in with a clear head trusting that my mechanics were going to come,” Arteaga said. “Having a clear mind every time I step into the batter’s box and really just focusing on hitting the ball. Nothing too crazy. Simplifying everything.”
Arteaga is also striking out at an alarmingly low rate so far in 2019. Through her 38 at bats, she has only gone down on strikes twice, down six percent from her rate last season. Conversely, she is also walking infrequently, having only walked twice so far this season.
“Over the past few seasons, I started off pretty strong but then, as the season goes on, I reflect on at bats. I just get caught up in the game,” Arteaga said. “I went into this season with the extra intent that I was going to simplify things and trust the game.
“I think I’m more picky in the pitches that I’m choosing to hit.The last two seasons, I would go in with the mentality to swing at the first pitch because that’s usually what the pitcher likes to throw. Now, I feel like other teams have scouting reports and I need to be more intentional with the balls that I swing at.”
Much like other baseball and softball players, Arteaga has a specific routine when coming to the plate that helps play into getting into the right mindset to make contact. With little room for error when batting, routine and mental preparation becomes key for any player.
“I always have a little routine,” Arteaga said. “I do a couple of swings, and then I touch the plate and point at the pitcher to make sure she knows what’s coming at her.”
Arteaga also changed her batting gloves on a game-to-game basis.
Her game extends much further than just batting, however. She mans the outfield alongside Alyssa Abron, Janae Barracato, Marisa Pla, and Briana Wallace, who have all developed a good relationship with one another regardless of class standing. The group, alongside outfield coach Daniel Nicolaisen, have dubbed the current campaign as “Savage Season.”
“The whole outfield this year, we’re extremely close,” Arteaga said. “At the start of the season we went on a little sushi date and it was like our new annual thing that we hope we can pass on.”
Playing the outfield is enjoyable for Arteaga, and it always has been for the entirety of her softball career, even dating back to when she was a kid. It allows for more personal time, and her favorite activity as a player for as long as she can remember has been tracking fly balls.
Her role on the field extends much further than tracking fly balls and getting on base, though. Now an upperclassman on the team, Arteaga is tasked with teaching the newcomers the ropes. Although she is just focusing on the outfielders at this point in the season, Arteaga hopes that she can be a role model for each player on the roster.
“I’m starting small and just trying to get to know the outfielders for now,” Arteaga said. “Those are the people that affect the chemistry that I get along with. I really enjoy having them.”
Chemistry is a clear part of every team, and the Pirates’ willingness to abide by this regard will be tested in the upcoming weeks. Starting on March 8, the team will spend nine straight days playing in Clearwater, Fla. in the USF Series.
“(The trip) definitely helps you bond because you see your teammates every single day,” Arteaga said. “It’s a critical time for the team because sometimes people can succumb to the pressure of playing all the time and having a lot of games and being so close to your teammates. But, I think if we persevere through that, the team will definitely be stronger. For someone going to school 2,750 miles away from home, Arteaga particularly enjoys traveling and trips like the upcoming one. However, she equally understands the hype of being home and the feeling surrounding it.
“I do love traveling and going different places and trying different food,” Arteaga said. “At the same time, everyone likes being home. Hearing our walkup songs, it pumps you up in a different way that going away wouldn’t.”
As for moving forward in the future of herself and the team, Arteaga is just focused on keeping things simple. If her patience continues to pay dividends, Arteaga will be in for much more than simple and ordinary accolades once the season comes to a close.
“I’m focusing on one hit at a time,” Arteaga said. “Just not making things too big.”
Kevin Kopf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KMKTNF.