While specialization has become a staple in baseball over the last four decades, complete games and softball are still synonymous with each other.
And that’s why Alyssa Rothwell was initially surprised during her sophomore year when she was approached about becoming the closer of the Ball State softball team.
“You don’t think about closers in softball, because pitchers typically throw complete games or are just followed by another pitcher,” Rothwell said. “When we talked about me becoming the closer for the team, I was surprised at first but it made sense when I took everything into consideration.
“Our coaches noticed during my freshman year that I did a lot better when I came in to pitch in relief, because my approach to pitching is so different. A lot of pitchers throw faster than I do, but I have a lot of spin on my rise ball and that makes it difficult to hit, especially when you’ve seen pitchers who rely on speed earlier in the game.”
After adjusting to her new role, Rothwell finished the 2018 season with 11 saves and a 1.63 ERA.
“I was unsure of myself a little bit at first, with being in a new role, but once I started to have some success everything took off for me,” Rothwell said. “I realized that I could do this and I was good at closing.”
Rothwell credited her calm demeanor for leading to success in the new role.
“I think my personality makes me the right fit for the job, because I’m a calm person and I remain calm in tight situations and look to pitch out of them,” she said. “When I do allow a hit or a run to score, I don’t dwell on it and I move on and look to get the next batter out.”
The 2016 Teays Valley graduate built on her initial success as a closer during the recently completed season, leading all of NCAA Division I softball with 14 saves, while also posting a 4-1 record over 32.1 innings pitched. She allowed 20 hits, walked 14, struck out 44 batters and held the opposition to a .169 batting average.
Ball State softball coach Megan Ciolli Bartlett discussed Rothwell’s maturity in the pitching circle with the school’s newspaper, the Ball State Daily News.
“(Alyssa) does an absolutely tremendous job for us in the closer role,” she said. “She does a great job under pressure, handles it with grace and just sticks to what she does best. That just shows a lot of maturity and composure. She’s a huge asset to us and does an outstanding job.”
Rothwell noted that the confidence and support from her teammates has also been integral to her success.
“Having the confidence of my teammates to come in and shut the door is really important to me,” she said. “Their trust in me gives me a lot of confidence and I want to go out there and do my job for them.”
Rothwell fell one save short of tying the single-season NCAA Division I record, which was set back in 2008 by Canisius’ Mallory Aldred and tied by Florida Gulf Coast’s Taylor Bauman in 2018.
The Teays Valley grad will enter her senior season as the career saves leader in school and Mid-American Conference history with 28 and is four saves away from tying the NCAA Division I record, held by Mississippi State’s Kellie Wilkerson (1999-2002).
“I want to break the NCAA record for career saves, but for me that’s really secondary,” Rothwell said. “I’m about the team first and we want to win the MAC Tournament and get to the NCAA Tournament.”
Rothwell, who was the starting pitcher on Teays Valley’s 2015 state championship and 2016 state runner-up teams, has become a believer in the closers role and how it can impact the game of softball moving forward.
“As a hitter sees you more and more, it becomes harder to continue getting them out, especially when you are facing a really good hitting team,” Rothwell said. “If you can pitch a complete game, that’s great, but I think it’s also nice to know you have someone who can come in after you, who offers a different look and who can get the job done.
“I look back to our state championship run back at Teays Valley and Raelynn Hastings did that for me in our regional final game against Gahanna. She had my back and now I have the back of our starters here at Ball State.”