TOPCAT: Three strikes, you’re out


Lauren McQueen

Sophomore Jessica Wireman pitches during game 1 of the Panthers’ doubleheader against Eastern Kentucky Saturday at Williams Field. The Panthers won, 1-0. Wireman struck out 22 batters during the 12-inning game, earning her Top Cat this week.

Sean Hastings, Sports Editor

Eastern Kentucky had the best record in the Ohio Valley Conference heading into last weekend until they ran into sophomore pitcher Jessica Wireman.

The Colonels and the Panthers had a 12-inning showdown with the first run coming in the bottom of the 12th inning off a squeeze play perfected by Eastern’s junior catcher Ashlynne Paul.

But the story of the day was Wireman. Wireman fanned 22 batters in 12 innings pitched, earning a shutout in the process.

If striking out 22 batters wasn’t impressive enough, Wireman did it against some of the OVC’s top hitters.

“I think the team knew that this game was going to be close from the start,” Paul said. “We always want to give (Wireman) run support because I know that allows her (to breathe) and not feel like she has to be perfect.”
The Colonels have five players batting over .300 with Paige Murphy batting .410. Kayla Joyce is right behind her bating .395.

Even though the two have been dangerous hitters all season long, Wireman shut both of them down, striking the two and three hitters out seven times combined. Joyce bats second for Eastern Kentucky, and Murphy bats third.

“I didn’t really know they were the top hitting team in the OVC or had really good hitters,” Wireman said. “So now it feels really good. I’m really proud of myself and that’s a big accomplishment not only for me but the team. They know I have their back when they face tougher pitching.”

Wireman has pitched five shutouts this season, but this past weekend’s shutout against the then-top ranked Colonels stands out more to Paul.

Paul has caught Wireman for much of the season.

“That was definitely one of her best games she has thrown all year,” Paul said.

Paul and Wireman have a pitcher-catcher relationship where being on the same page can be key.

The two did not talk much specifically, Paul said. But they knew they had to keep Eastern Kentucky off the base paths because they are a good team and will get the job done by moving the runners along and producing runs.

Wireman related this game back to last year’s regular season finale where she pitched 10 shutout innings against Southern Illinois Edwardsville.

She struck out just six batters in the contest. Her career-high for strikeouts in a game before this game was 11.

“Last year against SIUE that was a 10-inning game that was just like (Saturday),” Wireman said. “It was a shutout for me but it was only 10 innings so it wasn’t anywhere near as long and I didn’t have anywhere near as many strikeouts. So this is probably the most I’ve ever pitched in with it being so long and being such and good team and so many strikeouts.”

With this being the longest game Wireman has ever pitched, after a while things became a little bit hectic, she said.

“For the first probably 10 innings it was fun and then after that it was kind of hectic,” she said. “I was just waiting for us to score because I knew they weren’t going to.”

All throughout the game, Wireman remained focused by talking to Eastern pitching coach Jackie Sernek.

Wireman sits at the end of the bench during the game and discusses previous hitters she has faced in the game and how to approach the next inning’s hitters.

“We have goals I have to make, so that keeps me in the game,” she said.

Wireman had a plan from the start of the game on how to attack Eastern Kentucky’s lineup.

The curve she used to get strikeouts worked like a charm.

This pitch is usually one of her best pitches, she said, but it has not been working as well lately. It got back on track for this game.

“Usually I first would go (inside),” she said. “Then towards the end of the at bat I would go (outside) and make them chase, but sometimes I would get them to chase on the in pitch too.”

Wireman’s plan seemed to be working on getting the batters to chase the pitches as 17 of her 22 strikeouts came on the swing.

Even though the game went 12 innings, Wireman did not need to make many changes.

“It was the same pitches over and over again,” she said. “Usually if I struck a girl out on a curveball, the next couple at bats I was the same thing.”

She faced the first four batters of the lineup five times and the rest of the lineup four times.

“By the fourth time I think I had thrown everything I could against them so they had seen so much it was kind of nerve-racking,” Wireman said. “I wanted to get them to swing as much as I could without hitting.”

Wireman has had her ups and downs this season, but her standout moments have earned her OVC pitcher of the week three times.

Her most recent honor came Monday for her performance last week, based in part on the Eastern Kentucky game.

While the honor gives her a little more confidence moving forward, she does not focus on the awards too much, she said.

“I don’t really think about it too much,” Wireman said. “I get it then I forget about it 10 minutes later. My dad told me I got it for the third time and coach Angie (Nicholson) did as well. I don’t ever think about it.”

With the game being scoreless the whole way, the fact that nobody was scoring made it tough for Wireman, but beating the top team in the conference the way they did gives everyone else a little more confidence.

In a game where both teams were struggling to put the ball in play, it seemed only fitting that a squeeze play would end the game.

“The squeeze wasn’t planned, but we had worked bunting in practice a lot during the week,” Paul said. “Just trying to become confident and being able to lay it down whenever the time called for it.”

After the long 12-inning game, Wireman improved her record to 9-16 on the year and dropped her ERA to 3.53. She also has 130 strikeouts on the year now, which is good enough to be in the top 10 in the OVC.



Sean Hastings can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]