Lincoln Charter pitcher’s poise plays key role in Eagles’ success
by Aaron Burns
If Lincoln Charter School pitcher Jennifer Allison looks as if nothing’s bothering her on in the pitching circle late in a heavily contested softball game, forgive her. It’s not that she doesn’t care about the outcome of the game; her flippant reaction is the only way she knows how to act when it’s the sixth or seventh inning and the outcome rests on her shoulders.
When it’s Allison’s turn to pitch, odds are the Eagles are in every ball game. Sure, Allison might have some nervousness, but the sophomore hides it well. After all, a few pitches to the right spot of the strike zone, and Lincoln Charter wins the game. But if a couple of those throws miss their mark, the chances of an Eagles victory decrease significantly.
Ah, the demands of a high-school softball pitcher: It’s not the easiest job in the world. Then again, Allison handles every moment in stride – at least on the outside.
“I get a little nervous when there are two out and the game’s on the line,” Allison admitted. “I’ll just slow down, take a deep breath and do what I’m there to do.”
And what is Allison here to do? Well, get batters out, of course.
A 2.25 ERA in nine starts only attests to the notion that the girl nicknamed “J.G.” (her full name is Jennifer Grace Allison) is more cool and collected than nervous wreck when Lincoln Charter coach Mark Schild gives her the ball. Allison said she thinks pressure-packed game situations bring out the best in her, and her team.
“She’s been one of my captains for two years, and that’s how long she’s played at this level, so that’s saying something,” Schild said. “(Allison) plays a lot better when there’s more pressure on her for some reason.”
Heading into the Eagles’ Monday, April 11, game against Salisbury’s North Hills Christian Academy, Allison had 29 strikeouts in 53 innings while taking on better opponents than she faced last season. In 2010, the Eagles boasted a sparkling 14-3 record and a first-round win in the Class 1A state playoffs.
Schild, however, said his players wanted to raise the level of competition in 2011. Both Schild and Allison admit the tougher schedule this spring has made wins harder to come by – but it’s also made them better for a deeper run in the postseason.
“We’re playing public schools who are 1A, 2A schools with more players than the 11 we’ve got,” Schild said.
Of course, true to her nature, tougher competition doesn’t seem to bother Allison.
“The competition is harder, and the teams are better, but (the games) have actually helped my confidence,” she said. “As a team, we’ve adapted well.”
With the demanding schedule, the Eagles’ 6-6 record isn’t nearly as bad as Allison and the Eagles expected. Three of their losses – to Gastonia Highland Tech, Cherryville and Gaston Christian – were by one run. However, tough defeats haven’t dampened Allison’s hopes of making it to the state playoffs.
“If anyone (told) me (before the season) we’d have six wins or so at this point in the season,” Allison said, “I wouldn’t have believed it.”
With so few players on Lincoln Charter’s team, someone has to shoulder the load as a leader. According to Schild, there was little doubt as to who that would be when Allison joined the team in 2010 – even if she was a freshman at the time.
“The girls look up to her, and she’s a battler,” Schild said.
Allison, who also plays for a fast-pitch tournament team called the Lake Norman Magic, said she just fell in love with being a pitcher at an early age. She doesn’t discount her enjoyment for being at the plate, however. The numbers show Allison’s strengths on the diamond extend beyond the mound. Allison’s .447 batting average attests to that.
“One of the best hitters we have,” is how Schild described her.
Of course, softball is just one of the sports Allison enjoys. She’s also a middle and outside hitter on the Lincoln Charter volleyball team. She’s played volleyball since sixth grade. Standing nearly 5 foot 10, Allison can be an imposing pitcher on the mound or hitter at the net. Last fall, Allison led the Lincoln Charter volleyball team with 207 kills and 93 blocks.
Which of the two sports is her favorite?
“I don’t know yet,” she said. “They’re about even.”
As the Eagles’ season progresses, Allison said she’s focused on doing whatever it takes to get better. In her first nine appearances, her record was 4-5, but Schild was quick to point out that that statistic isn’t a fair barometer of her performance.
“Probably the best game I’ve seen her pitch, to be honest, was a 4-3 loss to Cherryville (on March 8) in nine innings (instead of the standard seven),” Schild said. “She threw all nine innings, and did really well.”
While the team’s record is solid, Schild noted, when the Eagles are down, Allison will do whatever she can to help bring them up, and not just with seven-inning games. On April 5, Lincoln Charter lost to rival Lake Norman Charter, 10-0, as Allison played first base.
“She came up to me in about the third or fourth inning, when we were already trailing, and said, ‘Put me in to pitch,’” said Schild. “I said, ‘You didn’t throw a single warm-up pitch,’ but she told me, ‘It doesn’t matter, I can do it.’”
Schild didn’t move Allison from first base during the game, but the sentiment she showed in the midst of a rivalry game illustrated her passion to win, he said.
“That’s the example she sets,” commented Schild, who said his goal for the team is to “get off the win-lose-win-lose roller coaster and stand together as a team of 11 girls. I want Jennifer to be a leader for that purpose.”
Pressure on the mound or in the batter’s box doesn’t faze Allison. So if she isn’t pressured, is she shy, after all?
“It amazes me how cool and calm she looks out there when she’s pitching, you’d never know anything was bothering her,” said Allison’s mother, Sandy. “But don’t ask her to go to a restaurant’s drive-thru and place an order. She’ll never do it.
“She can strike anyone out with a full count and two outs, but she gets nervous at a drive-thru.”
Clearly, “batter up” and “order up” have two different effects on the young pitcher.
“Isn’t that amazing?” Sandy asked. “I guess that’s just how she is.”