With her bangs flipping up in the breeze, sun screen on her nose and her blue eyes enhanced by makeup, Lisa Longaker of UCLA whipped around her right arm and released the softball with a frightening force.
The effort brought from her a cry that was heard only a fraction of a second before the ball had traveled 43 feet, been missed by a Cal Poly Pomona batter and landed with a loud pop in the catcher's mitt.
"Nice shot, lady," yelled a fan in the pretty little Pomona ballpark that the Covina Hills overlook.
That was strike three, the first of three strikeouts in the opening inning Saturday by Longaker, formerly of Mayfair High School in Lakewood and now the ace pitcher of the No. 1-ranked Division I softball team in the nation.
She seemed on her way to dominating another game.
Junior third baseman Janice Parks, who also played at Mayfair High, is another star on the 46-7 UCLA team. She and Longaker, a sophomore, have been best friends since high school days. Both are All-Americans and members of the Lakewood Hall of Fame.
Parks hosted Longaker when Longaker took her recruiting trip to UCLA. "They wanted her to come here just as much as I did," Parks said.
The 5-foot-9 Parks was a prolific athlete at Mayfair, captaining the softball, volleyball and basketball teams. She once scored 49 points in a basketball game.
The 5-foot-7 Longaker was a four-time ll-CIF Southern Section selection in softball.
Like most outstanding pitchers in women's college softball, Longaker developed her skills at a pitching school she began attending when she was in the seventh grade.
"She was a very intent, very happy student," recalled Ron LeFebvre, who runs the pitching school in Orange. "She has the kind of intensity that is God-given. She's a thinking pitcher. She'll outthink you every time. And you won't beat her."
Longaker came from a softball background. Her father, John, is coach of the Inland City Raiders, a traveling team of top high school players. He said he caught his daughter's pitches in their back yard six days a week from the time she was 12 1/2 until she finished high school.
The statistics of Longaker and Parks glitter.
Longaker, the player of the year in the Pac-10, took a 26-2 record, a 0.23 earned run average and 19 shutouts into the Pomona game. With one of the nation's best rise balls and also a good downer pitch, she has averaged almost a strikeout an inning. She went 108 innings earlier in the season without allowing an earned run.
Parks is batting .335 and leads the Bruins with 6 home runs, 8 doubles, 83 total bases and 37 runs batted in. In a sport dominated by pitchers with searing speed, she has struck out only two times all season.
"She has a very high level of self-confidence," UCLA Coach Sharron Backus said.
And a reputation for coming through in clutch situations.
"I love to be up there if I can make a difference," Parks said. "I love to hit."
Longaker added, "I love her to be up there."
With one out in the second inning. Longaker walked a batter. The next woman dropped a pop single into right field. With runners at first and third, Longaker drilled two strikes to Heather DeLuca. Another strikeout seemed imminent.
"If the bases are loaded with one out, you can count on her to strike out the next two batters," Parks had said of her friend before the game.
But DeLuca hit the next pitch hard up the middle for a hit and Pomona led, 1-0.
Longaker's father, who watched from the stands, knew she had made a mistake.
"The pitch was low; it should have been high and out of the strike zone," he said. "She's been taught that."
Longaker drives herself to excel and expects to.
"Yes, I've made my mark," she said when asked if she thought she was among the nation's top pitchers.
Some mistake her confidence for arrogance.
"She's the warmest person I've ever trained," LeFebvre said.
Longaker said she has not had a slump since she was a freshman in high school. She works hard every day to make sure she doesn't have one.
"If I didn't work out Monday through Friday and tried to pitch on Saturday it would be death," she said.
Cal State Long Beach softball Coach Pete Manarino knows Longaker from when Mayfair played his former team, St. Joseph High of Lakewood.
"Her competitive spirit is just unbelievable," Manarino said.
Parks and Longaker, both 20, are quick to point out the toughness of their sport to those who are not familiar with it.
"(People) think, softball, like it must be slo-pitch and we just play like girls," Parks said .
Longaker said, "A lot of guys, when they find out it's fast-pitch, will say, 'I want to hit.' A couple of guys on the (UCLA) baseball team want to try to hit me. I want to play them in a game. I want to do that."
Because there are no professional softball leagues, Parks and Longaker already have plans for the future. An economics major, Parks wants a career in hotel management. Longaker, who studies English, is determined to get into advertising.
In the sixth inning Longaker gave up another solid single to Dana Ramos. That scored another run and gave Pomona a 2-0 lead. After the last out of the inning, Longaker walked to the bench and sat with her hands on her knees and her head down.
After Rainey Maynez of the Bruins homered to cut the lead to 2-1, Parks came up.
With her long black hair spilling from her helmet, Parks swung hard, but for the third straight time popped to the second baseman for the second out.
Longaker stood and shouted, "Game isn't over."
But in a moment it was. Pomona, a team that would jump from fifth to second in the nation, won, 2-1.
"They just got the hits," said Longaker, who had 10 strikeouts. "And you can't win when you don't get runs. I had some good innings and some bad innings."
It was the first time this season that she had allowed more than one run in a game. She was stunned.