One likes to talk. The other is fairly quiet. Their approach to their work is different. When they arrived as University of San Diego freshmen in 2011, there was an instant rivalry and a competitive spirit to be the go-to person.
But USD Softball Coach Melissa McElvain’s mindset when USD began recruiting high school pitchers Cassidy Coleman and Jenny Lahitte during their sophomore year was to have a solution for the Pacific Coast Softball Conference’s schedule format of playing two weekend doubleheaders.
“The way our conference games are laid out, playing four games in two days, it’s really challenging, pitching-wise,” said McElvain, who is in her 12th season as head coach. “I realized about six or seven years ago that I needed to change my recruiting philosophy a bit. I’ve had really strong pitchers here in the past, but we’d not had a one-two pitching combo. We needed it to give us a chance in a four-game series. Thankfully, I didn’t need to look too far because both were in San Diego.”
And now, in their third season together, there may still be differences — Coleman is a vocal leader and Lahitte (pronounced La-Heat) leads by example and their approach on pitches and preparations are unique to their personalities — but the two Torero standouts are certainly on the same page.
“We do a very good job of picking each other up,” Coleman said. “I got in a bases-loaded jam (last week) and Jenny came in and shut it down. It was great and it shows everyone else on our team that, as pitchers, we’ve got each other’s back. Everyone should have each other’s back.”
Said McElvain: “They’ve given us that one-two punch, or a number one and number one punch. They’re both dominating. They’re the best combination, hands down, in our conference pitching wise in my opinion. They’re tough to beat, very talented in the circle. They complement each other very well even though they’re very different. They’re both No. 1 pitchers.”
Coleman (pictured, left) and Lahitte (pictured, bottom right) committed to McElvain within a few days of each other while they were still posting strikeouts, tossing no-hitters and notching big wins at Horizon Christian Academy and Granite Hills high schools, respectively.
Both say their initial visit to campus convinced them to be Toreros. Both wanted to stay close to home, family, friends and in a city they each cherish.
“It’s a beautiful place that brings out every aspect I love about San Diego,” said Coleman about USD. “What sealed the deal for me, though, was having a good relationship with Coach Mac. USD felt like home.”
Lahitte liked softball and USD’s academics reputation. The small class sizes and one-to-one attention from professors sold the now two-time PCSC Honor Roll member. Lahitte, an accountancy major, plans to enroll in the master’s program, too, and eventually wants to be a certified public accountant.
Her choice of a tough, disciplined major complements Lahitte’s approach to softball. When she’s not playing a game or at practice, she’s watching film or college softball games on television to gain more knowledge and make adjustments.
“I go back and look at video when I pitch and look to see what I’m doing wrong,” said Lahitte, who has a curveball, rise ball and change-up in her pitching arsenal. “I’ll see teams playing on TV and try to figure out what pitches work best in certain situations.”
When it all comes together as it has when she tossed only the second no-hitter in USD softball history (against Saint Mary’s last season) or struck out a school-record 16 against UNLV, it’s a great feeling.
“It’s rewarding when you notice all of the hard work you’ve put in is paying off,” she said. “I feel that being a pitcher helps me with off-the-field stuff, too.”
Coleman, a Communication Studies major and psychology minor, displays her softball talent for all to see — “Cassidy is a hard, go-at-you kind of pitcher,” McElvain said — but what’s most important to the pitcher is her inner confidence to succeed.
“After I pitch a game, I’m always exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Coleman, whose main pitches are curve, rise and drop balls. “When I’m out there, I invest everything I have into every pitch. But I like it, too, because I think it correlates perfectly with life. Learning it through softball, you’re pitching a game, day by day, so invest all of yourself into everything you’re doing.”
One way for a pitcher to invest thoroughly is having control of the strike zone and recording strikeouts.
Coleman and Lahitte, with 12 PCSC games remaining this season and a senior year still ahead of them, are on pace to finish their Torero careers as the No. 1 and 2 pitchers in strikeouts. Coleman, is currently second on the career list with 396, including 152 so far this season in 131.1 innings pitched. Lahitte has 130 in 140.2 innings this year and is third overall with 350. Jennifer Ellenback (2007-2010) holds the career mark of 447.
“I love everything about being a pitcher,” Coleman said. “Everything starts with us, everything that happens depends on how we throw the ball. I love to strike people out, but hits are going to happen. I have to focus on getting outs. You always need to have confidence in every pitch.”
Said Lahitte: “Strikeouts are really motivating. When I strike someone out it’s so addicting, it makes me really love pitching. It’s so exciting when you can strike someone out in a big situation. It’s just like the feeling you get when you go out there and you don’t want to let anyone score runs.”
Both pitchers have a competitive appetite for their sport. Both exemplify leadership roles they’ve earned through hard work. Together, they’re the pitching blueprint for Torero softball teams to come.
— Ryan T. Blystone