As a sophomore, Alexa Gehrls was part of a pitching rotation that included one of the greatest to ever toe the mound in an SVSU uniform.
After Jade Fulton graduated last May, taking her career school records in appearances, saves and strikeouts with her, the task of replacing the All-American fell to Gehrls.
“Filling Jade’s shoes is huge,” Gehrls said. “It’s a little bit of pressure, but she’s gone and there’s nothing we can do about it. I have to step up and fill her role.”
Nearly halfway through this season, Gehrls has picked up where Fulton left off. The junior has logged 85 innings while playing in 12 games, posting an earned run average of 2.22 and striking out 85 batters en route to a 8-5 record.
Gehrls said that it was her time spent learning from Fulton that prepared her to take her place.
“I wouldn’t say I was necessarily in her shadow,” said Gehrls, who pitched 70 innings to Fulton’s 265 last season. “I actually felt really lucky to play underneath her because she taught me more than you can imagine.
“We worked out together every single day in practice, and I was with her all the time.”
As a team, the Lady Cardinals are also hoping to live up to the precedent they set last year when they made it to the national semifinals. It hasn’t been easy for the Lady Cardinals to live up to that standard, as the team currently sits at 15-15 after losing only 18 games all of last season.
“We started off playing some difficult teams,” Gehrls said. “Coach (Tim Rousse) has mentioned that we’re getting better as we go, and I definitely think that’s the case.”
After starting the season 3-11 on a tough spring trip to Florida and a challenging road trip, the Lady Cardinals have gone 12-4. Of the team’s 15 losses this season, nine have been decided by only one run.
“The team attitude is still really good,” Gehrls said. “We just need to put it all together – hitting, pitching, and defense – instead of just one thing at a time.”
Gehrls denied that the team’s struggle has anything to do with a hangover from last year’s success.
“I think we’re kind of past that point,” she said. “Coach told us at the beginning of the year it’s a new season.
“What we did last year doesn’t matter.”
Gehrls has already surpassed her total innings pitched from last year with nearly half the season still remaining, but hasn’t showed any signs of wearing down.
“Softball pitching is a natural pitching motion, so it doesn’t really hurt our arms that much,” Gehrls said. “We worked really hard in the offseason to condition ourselves to pitch this many innings because we knew it was going to be that way.”
She said that she enjoys handling a majority of the pitching load, along with fellow junior Jilliam Williamson, who has logged 99 innings so far this season.
“Personally, I like it, and I think Jill likes it too,” she said. “It’s just us two. It’s fun.”
As one of ten upperclassmen on the team this season, Gehrls has also flourished in her role as a leader and mentor to younger players.
“I think it’s really important,” she said. “ I remember being a freshman, and you don’t really know what your role is. You go from being a superstar in high school to just being a freshman and then everyone is better than you.
“I think it’s really important as an upperclassman to take freshmen under your wing. You have to teach them what their role is so that they can teach other freshmen in the future.”
But the team isn’t looking toward next year just yet. Gehrls said that they still believe they can match last year’s performance – or go ever further.
“Our main goal is to go back to nationals and win it,” Gehrls said.” But we have to win GLIACs and Regionals.” first.”