Steward’s maturity has been a key to her pitching

06111424 Citizen OHS softball POYsThere is more to being a successful pitcher than just talent. Oxford High’s Ciara Steward understands that now more than at any time during her varsity career.

Steward has always had the talent to be a successful pitcher in the circle for the Lady Chargers, but in order to really help her team garner wins, she had to develop maturity.

“I knew that I had to step up because being in the circle, you’re the one that everyone looks to during a game. It’s your territory and I’ve gotten used to people looking up to me. They are the ones that are going to look to me during a game. It comes naturally so you have to get used to it,” said Steward, who just finished her junior season at OHS. “I matured a lot pitching wise. As I look back, I got a lot better from my freshman year and eighth grade because I had a different pitching coach. I was so glad I had a different pitching coach because I used to walk a lot of people.”

Megan Matthews was the pitching coach that really helped develop Steward’s pitching prowess. The process included Matthews teaching the basics before really going forward and teaching the finer points of the game.

“She played at South Carolina and she was my pitching coach until she moved last year. She made a huge difference. She taught me better mechanics. I started from scratch. I didn’t go back to full pitching for two months,” Steward said. “She had me work on getting my legs into it and learning how to snap better. She got me in better shape and made me run a lot more which I wasn’t used to. That was hard. She also taught me the mental aspect of the game that I didn’t pay attention to. She taught me how to handle being a pitcher.”

The extra work not only paid off for Steward in terms of stats – she has posted four straight seasons of 100 or more strikeouts – but it’s impressed her coach, Steve Blackmon, who picked Steward as the Oxford Pitcher of the Year in 2014.

“She has really worked at her craft and she continues to do so as far as the pitching. She is pretty consistent. She is a force on the mound. It’s important to her. She wants to do well and she wants to continue to play after she gets finished playing here in high school,” Blackmon said. “She has been working on it year round. She has played in fall leagues and playing on travel teams, and with us on our summer league team. When there is something you want to do, you go out and do it.”

When it comes time to get batters out, Steward said she relies on tempo to set the tone.

“As a pitcher, they go at my pace. When I get the ball back, I go at a fast tempo and if I get out of that rhythm, I don’t seem to do as well. I feel like I control the time of the game. It’s a lot of responsibility to be the pitcher, but I like it,” she said. “Towards the end of an inning, my arm gets tired, but what it makes you realize is to use your legs more. You can’t really show that you’re starting to wear out and I want to compete. I have an intensity level in me where I want to compete when I go out there.”

Blackmon has noticed how Steward attacks batters during his two years leading the team. There was a time when Steward just went for the strikeout, but that wasn’t always the best approach.

“There were times where she would struggle the second or third time through the order. She has worked on that this year and she’s been able to work on some pitches and develop some things. Changing speeds and location is the key in softball just like it is in baseball. If you throw the same speed all the time, eventually they’re going to catch up with you,” Blackmon said. “I think she knows now that she’s not just going to throw it by everybody. There are some people that you can, but most of the time when you throw it by somebody, it’s because they’re looking for something else or not knowing what to look for and you can surprise them with it.”

The ability to realize that the Lady Chargers need to be involved in the outs is a sign of maturity, Blackmon said, and that has been another area that he’s seen growth in Steward.

“She’s going be a senior this year and she’s been the starting pitcher for the last three years. She’s been pretty young and thrown into the fire. Young players sometimes aren’t focused on what you’re trying to get done and this and that. There have been times where she has been focused on strikeouts, but that’s part of the maturing process. She is more into what the team needs whether that’s ground balls, or fly balls. She’s really developing into a pitcher,” Blackmon said. “Pitchers can let that get into their head and just the maturity of not letting that bother her has been a real key. Being able to concentrate on her pitching, which keeps her stronger longer, gives us a better chance to win.”

Steward, the daughter of John and Penny Farley, gave a lot of credit to Blackmon for changing the mindset of the team, as well as improving the overall fundamentals.

“Coach Blackmon has made a big difference. He works more on fielding than we’ve worked on in the past. We still have some errors, but every team does. He’s gotten us more on a competing level than we have in a while,” Steward said. “He’s got us hitting a lot better. He gives motivational speeches which are really helpful. He’s got us believing that if we don’t do well one game, we’re going to come right back and do just as well as we can the next game. He’s done a really good job of us not getting down on ourselves which is really helpful.”

The past few summers, Steward has been playing summer ball on the Mississippi Extreme. She played one tournament with the organization this year, but she has really been focused on helping her OHS teammates this summer.

“Since the spring, I started to realize that this is my last year. Sometimes I had a mindset to where I wanted to win but I didn’t go out there with the mindset I needed. This summer, even though these games don’t count, I want to win every game. I care about every pitch. I want everything to be perfect. This is my last year and I want to do everything I can do,” said Steward, who felt like the Lady Chargers were on pace to have a successful 2015 season. “We’ve lost a few position players. We lost a few of our infielders and one of our outfielders, but we have a bunch of good players coming up. Our team is really young and I feel like coming up we can really do something. Our hitting in summer ball has been incredible and they’ve been fielding really well behind me and that’s something we had to improve on last year. I think that we’re going to do really well this year. I hope that we do.”

Twitter: @oxfordcitizenjd

About John Davis

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