06/24/07 — All-Area softball: Saints' Darden has record-setting season as pitcher

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All-Area softball: Saints' Darden has record-setting season as pitcher

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 24, 2007 2:01 AM

A year of experience on the varsity level makes a difference.

Southern Wayne pitcher Lauren Darden certainly won't argue the point.

As a freshman, Darden didn't know what to expect from hitters on the high school scene. She'd toed the rubber, get the sign from catcher Lindsey Pearsall and unleash a twirling pitch toward the plate.

More often than not, opponents aggressively attacked the right-hander in the box.

This season?

Not so much.

Banking on her maturing and a solid defense behind her, Darden threw with confidence and pinpoint accuracy. She baffled hitters with an array of pitches -- fastball, riseball, curve and screwball.

"As a pitcher, you try to throw what the batter is not looking," said Southern Wayne head coach Brad Matthews. "It's hard for a batter to go up there and focus on one pitch. She can throw them where she wants to on the plate.

"When you have a pitcher who can do that, you can expect to win a lot of ball games."

The Saints did.

Southern Wayne won a school-record 23 games in the program's fast-pitch era, which began in the late 1990s. Darden, meanwhile, established records for wins (19), strikeouts (257), innings pitched (167), earned run average (0.54), complete games (22) and shutouts (9).

For her efforts, Darden is the 2007 News-Argus Softball Pitcher of the Year.

Darden attributes her success to a year of varsity experience, travel ball and knowledge gained on the mound. Matthews became more assured of the right-hander's ability this spring. He allowed Darden and catcher Lindsey Pearsall to call their own pitches.

"Lauren has matured a lot," said Matthews. "Now she knows what to expect from hitters on the high school level. It helps that she's got a lot of different pitches to use."

Darden prefers to challenge a batter from the first pitch. She might throw a fastball outside or go with something offspeed, depending on the scouting report.

A rise ball will appear somewhere in the count. If Darden gets way ahead of the batter, she'll try to stretch the umpire's strike zone with another outside pitch.

"If they do swing at it and hit it, they're going to foul it off," said Darden, who averaged 9.5 strikeouts an outing. "If you're ahead in the count, you really don't throw something right there (in the zone) for them to hit.

"I like going after the batter and whatever happens, I know I have a great defense behind me."

Matthews likes Darden's competitive edge.

"You're born with it," smiled Matthews. "You can't teach it. She has what it takes to be a great pitcher on the high school and college level. The better the competition, the harder you have to work.

"She's done that to get where she is now."

Darden feels like she experienced a magical season. The Saints finished a program-best 8-2 in the Class 3-A Eastern Carolina Conference and advanced to the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs -- also a program first.

"It was a good season and we had a lot of fun like a big family," said Darden, who earned all-ECC honors and didn't allow a home run all season. "Of course, one goal was to make it to the postseason. But we wanted to go out there and play our best every game.

"If we didn't have a good game, that was OK. We didn't get down on ourselves and that was something we definitely improved from last year."