March 12, 2003

The Pitcher's Mound, Where She Belongs

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Most students head into their junior year with one big question hanging over their heads: “What was I meant to be?” Women’s softball standout Sarah Sterman knew her answer a long time ago.

“Being on the mound, pitching in a softball game is where I’m supposed to be,” said the junior pitcher. “It’s the best place I can be at, and it just feels right when I’m out there.”

She’s not kidding, either. Last year, the Geneva, N.Y. native proved just how comfortable she was on the mound, scorching opposing teams for one of the best seasons a Cornell pitcher has ever had. Boasting a 1.23 ERA and 157 strikeouts, both school records, Sterman was only the second pitcher in the program’s history to earn All-Ivy first-team honors.

The other hurler to earn the distinction is arguably the most notable figure in Cornell softball history, Julie Westbrock ’99. Head coach Dick Blood managed both of the pitching aces and doesn’t hesitate to make comparisons.

“They both have ice in their veins, they’re great competitors and neither of them had time to be rattled,” he said.

While Sterman has developed into one of the Ivy League’s toughest pitchers, her transition to the college game wasn’t easy. Coming off a high school career that saw her win a state championship and be named first-team All-State as a junior and senior, Sterman struggled early in Cornell’s 2001 championship season.

“She got hit hard her freshman year and still won 14 games, but she had a lot to learn coming in,” recalled Blood. “So what was the difference her sophomore year? Seasoning.”

That seasoning and the experience she’s gained over her two years on the mound will come in handy, as she takes on a new role this season. With two freshmen backing her up, Sterman will be expected to be the leader on this year’s staff. It’s a role she’s willing to take and there’s much she can impart to the pair of rookies.

“I had a senior when I came in — [Nicole] Zitarelli [’01], — she was really a huge support, and I hope I can be that for them,” said Sterman.

Part of what Sterman can teach is the crafty style with which she pitches. Not intimidating in stature at 5-6, nor overbearing in velocity with a 64-mph heater, Sterman uses a Greg Maddux-like savvy to get outs.

“She doesn’t go near the strike zone when she doesn’t have to. The freshmen will see that right away. She’s more than willing to go past a 2-2 count to punch somebody out,” said Blood.

Sterman feels that her style is the product of lessons she learned as a rookie.

“It was important for me to realize that every pitch has a purpose and sometimes that purpose isn’t to get the batter out. I didn’t pitch like that in high school or even in my first year here,” she said.

Using that mentality, Sterman became Cornell’s go-to pitcher last season and appeared in a league-best 40 games. Her 22 wins, 19 complete games, and 211 innings were also tops in the Ivies and proved her durability. Sterman remained dependable throughout her 2002 campaign. During one stretch in April, Sterman went 39 1/3 innings without allowing a single run.

“There’s no doubt that when she took the mound, our players knew that we’d be in the ballgame. And if she had a rough inning, we knew she’d get us out of it somehow,” Blood said.

With personal honors playing a secondary role, however, team success is what drives Sterman to be better on a day-to-day basis.

“Individual honors never really come into play for me, I think the real pressure is for the team to produce. I just want to be a huge supporter both on and off the field so that we can meet that goal ” she concluded.

Of course, on the field is where this veteran belongs. It’s where she was meant to be.

Archived article by Scott Jones