When Laura Richardson was 12, her father took her and her older sister to a softball pitching instructor.
Laura, uninterested, waited in the car while her sister Roseanne took the lesson. Laura thought pitching was boring and, besides, she wanted to be a shortstop.
But in the intervening four years, Richardson has developed into one of the finest pitchers in the Southern Section 5-A Division. The Camarillo High sophomore right-hander showcased her talent last Saturday when the Scorpions beat Buena, 3-0, in the 5-A title game.
The victory capped a storybook season for Camarillo (24-5), the Marmonte League champion, and Richardson was the protagonist. Coach Darwin Tolzin, a longtime Camarillo resident with 35 years of pitching experience in men's leagues, credits Richardson with much of the team's success.
"Without her, we probably still would have won league," Tolzin said, "but we certainly wouldn't have done that well in the playoffs."
Richardson's dominating performances in the playoffs likely will bring her recognition as the 5-A pitcher of the year, according to Tolzin. Richardson went 4-0 in the playoffs, improving her record to 16-3.
In the first round, Richardson struck out 13 in a perfect game against San Marcos. She allowed just two hits in each of the Scorpions' final three playoff games and did not give up an earned run.
Her performance in the final--in which she struck out 14 and walked one--was one of her best. But Richardson still saw room for improvement.
"There were some spots where I could have done better," Richardson said. "Like the two hits and the walk."
Richardson (6-6 as a freshman) completed this season with an 0.53 earned-run average. In 146 innings she had 213 strikeouts and allowed just 28 walks. In the playoffs, she averaged 1.8 strikeouts an inning.
Richardson has no reservations about getting out of the car for a pitching lesson these days. In fact, for the past two years she has been receiving tips from Don Sarno, one of the game's most respected pitching coaches.
Sarno has given lessons to such standout college pitchers as Michele Granger of Cal, Lisa Fernandez, De De Weiman and Heather Compton of UCLA and Kym Weil of Hart High and the University of Hawaii. He thinks Richardson has the talent to join that group.
"Her ability to stay focused and not get rattled is her best asset," Sarno said. "I am more impressed with that than anything else."
Early in the season, her fastball was clocked in the mid-50s. Richardson has two years remaining at the high school level, and both she and Tolzin believe that her velocity will increase.
"As long as she stays interested and keeps throwing, she's just gonna throw harder and harder," Tolzin said. "Next year she'll be throwing in the low 60s."
"And when she gets to be a senior--and gets some meat on her bones--she'll be a Heather Compton-like pitcher. . . . She's gonna be that good."
Sarno, 57, a member of the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame, has helped Richardson develop a rise ball, the most difficult pitch to throw.
"The position of the arm on a rise ball is the same as it is for a curve in baseball," Tolzin said. "And you don't see a lot of baseball players throwing the curve all that well in high school."
High school is not where the once-reluctant pitcher would like her career to end. "I used to not want to play in college, but I think I do now," Richardson said. "The more I play, the more into it I get."