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Cal Poly's Workhorse Wheatley Hurls Record 45 Wins

May 16, 1985|MITCH POLIN | Times Staff Writer

Before the season, Cal Poly Pomona softball Coach Carol Spanks told Rhonda Wheatley she might have to pitch more than usual because the rest of the pitchers were inexperienced.

Little did Wheatley suspect how much more might mean.

Pomona has played 63 games. Wheatley has pitched in 57, started 52 and completed 37.

But the 19-year-old hasn't simply pitched. The sophomore from Workman High in La Puente has produced eye-popping statistics.

She has won an NCAA record 45 games with 13 losses, has an 0.23 earned-run average and has allowed only 12 earned runs in 376 innings. Her complete games and starts are believed to be NCAA records.

Spanks said Wheatley's pitching is the main reason Pomona's women (48-15) are ranked No. 3 in Division I entering the first round of the NCAA playoffs today.

Not Overpowering

At 5-8 1/2 Wheatley does not look like a workhorse and does not have an overpowering delivery, although she has 294 strikeouts and five no-hitters.

So how has Wheatley been so successful?

"I don't think she overpowers people but that's not really her forte," Spanks said. "She throws a variety of pitches with relatively good control and better than average velocity, and we also have a good catcher (Donna McElrea) who mixes pitches well.

"She's also quite a competitor. She likes to throw."

Wheatley, who describes herself as a finesse and junk-ball pitcher, says her success has more to do with versatility and deception. She throws six pitches: a fastball, knuckleball, riser, dropper, screwball and curve.

"That (versatility) helps more than a lot of other things," Wheatley said. "We played (No. 1-ranked) Cal State Fullerton eight times and after playing them that many times, they've seen just about everything. So it's good to have a lot of pitches because in some games one pitch isn't working so you throw something else. You have to be either overpowering or you have to fool people."

Excellent Concentration

Spanks said Wheatley has excellent concentration and does not rattle easily. "She does not dwell on her mistakes like a lot of players."

How does Wheatley manage to keep her mind firmly on pitching?

"You kind of have to have a tunnel vision. I guess it's part of concentrating. You have to block out things around you. A lot of times it might look like I'm distracted, but I don't hear the crowds. It doesn't faze me."

Tunnel vision or not, Wheatley admits she was a little distracted by her slow start this season after making the Division I All-American team as a freshman.

"Last year when I got All-American, I was shocked. I didn't have the slightest idea that I would be considered. When I heard about it I was floored.

"So this year I was thinking maybe I could get All-American four years in a row. But the season didn't start out that well. We lost two games to Cal State Northridge and I thought this was going to be one of those seasons."

Solution: Relax

Wheatley, who said she may have put unnecessary pressure on herself at the start of the season, remedied the problem by relaxing.

"I was looking ahead at all the games I had to pitch and I felt a lot of pressure. But now I'm just taking it one game at a time. My best games are when I take it easy out there.

"I'm a relaxed person and I've always had trouble with my coaches because of it."

Spanks is one coach who doesn't seem to mind. "I think it helps her keep the whole perspective of the game. I think she has had to work on her concentration a lot more (than others), but that's something she has gotten a lot better at."

Wheatley has been playing softball since age 12 but not always as a pitcher. She played second base, shortstop and catcher in youth leagues.

It was not until Wheatley's freshman year in high school at Workman when she started pitching, and she was just an average pitcher at first.

'Something Clicked'

"I always wanted to pitch but was never outstanding. Something just seemed to click my sophomore year. I just started pitching well and I've been a pitcher ever since."

Wheatley's best year in high school was as a senior when she pitched Workman to the CIF 2-A Division championship and was named 2-A player of the year.

However, Wheatley said there is a vast difference between pitching well for a high school and for a Division I university.

"In high school you just have to be fast," she said. "The hitting isn't anything near what it is in college. In high school, there are maybe two good hitters on a team. In college there are at least seven."

Wheatley learned quickly that in college she would have to be more deceptive and have a better variety of pitches. She learned most of her pitches in college.

25-6 as Freshman

"In high school I was just out there throwing. I guess I've matured a lot. I had to. I was carefree in high school. I would goof around and laugh a lot on the field. But you can't do that here."

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