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The Class of '98

Pitcher Amanda Freed Brings Pacifica to the Top

September 23, 1997|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

GARDEN GROVE — It's hard to imagine Amanda Freed crying on a softball field. Even she, when thinking back to her days playing in a recreation league, can't fathom the thought.

But she cried. Too much pressure from a coach to strike out each opponent. A perfectionist who couldn't strike out everyone, she cried and did the only thing she could do.

She didn't pitch.

That was half her lifetime ago.

It's no longer a burden for Freed, now 17, to strike out opposing hitters. She does it happily, naturally, for Pacifica High.

Freed, 1997 Times Orange County softball player of the year, pitched Pacifica to a Southern Section championship and, according to at least one publication, a national title her junior season.

Few high school athletes are in her class or as dominant in their sports. Freed won 20 games without a loss and struck out 263 in 154 innings last season. She walked 30, and opponents batted .063.

She pitched her travel team, Gordon's Panthers, to a national championship two summers ago. Last summer, she lost in the final. She refuses to talk about that.

She had her pick of any college in the country and chose UCLA.

Freed has come a long way from when she was 7 and the pressure to strike out all the other recreation league players got to her.

"The pressure doesn't bother me anymore," she said. "I go out and watch the kids, they look like they're having fun. And I think about me. 'Why did I cry?' No one else looks like they're pressured. I guess I was a perfectionist."

Freed is seen as a role model by the local Little Miss leagues, and signs her share of autographs after games and during clinics.

"I don't have an autograph," she said. "I just write my name."

Autographs, she thought while growing up, were reserved for older players, the best in the world. Well . . .

"She's right below being one of the top college pitchers or being a pitcher of Olympic caliber," said Ernie Parker, a pitching coach who has worked with Freed and, among others, Lisa Fernandez, considered by some the best softball player in the world. "Fernandez could come within two inches of your glove. That's what we're working on with Amanda. Fine tuning. The talent is there.

"At this point, without a doubt, she's at the very top level for her age bracket nationally."

Freed pitched nine no-hitters last year and tied a section record with five perfect games. She needs five perfect games in 1998 to match Fernandez's section record of 12 perfect games while at Lakewood St. Joseph (and two to tie the county record held by Valencia's Michele Granger).

She missed about 35 opportunities to add to her career total of 15 no-hitters the last three years because she shared pitching duties with Toni Mascarenas (Arizona). For that reason, it's difficult to compare her with some of the county's other all-time pitchers, including Ocean View's Jackie Oakley (Class of 1986), Woodbridge's Tiffany Boyd (1988), Kennedy's Cheryl Longeway (1991) and Granger (1988).

But Pacifica Coach Rob Weil says Freed will get a chance to rewrite the record book.

"As of right now, she's scheduled to pitch every game," he said. "She's earned that opportunity if she can do it. I think she can break any record that she wants."

Last year, Freed gave up only six runs--five earned--and compiled a 0.23 earned-run average. Half those runs (all earned) came in one game, a tie with Foothill, which was ranked second in the county (and fourth nationally). Her career record is 47-3.

Though Freed won't admit it, Weil says his pitcher has something to prove: "She's a competitor--she wants to better herself. She wants more strikeouts. She wants a repeat of what happened this year.

"People say, 'What more can you ask for?' As a coach, you can ask for the same, maybe a little more. We were 31-1; we'd like to be 32-0."

Freed isn't about softball as much as conquering a challenge. She didn't play volleyball until her freshman season and became a first-team All-Garden Grove League player last year. She was a three-time first-team selection in soccer and was the league's most valuable player last year.

"Hard work and dedication are at the heart of who I am," said Freed, who has a 4.0 grade-point average. "If I get something, I earn it, I know that I worked for it."

At 5 feet 8 and a size 7, she's not as big as a lot of pitchers who generate the velocity she does.

"Height has a lot to do with it, and she has good arm leverage," Parker said. "Leverage and timing.

Parker estimates Freed throws about 63 mph, but her variety of pitches is what sets her apart.

"She has a very good rise ball, a very good changeup, a good curve and a good screwball," he said. "The drop is coming along pretty well, and that will make her a complete pitcher."

Her fastest pitch? The screwball.

"To raise her to the next plateau, we need to concentrate on spotting the ball on the corners," Parker said. "She has plenty of movement. Now we want to put it on the corners.

"She's pretty close to being technically perfect," Parker said, "but I'm particular. There's room for improvement for everybody."

Which is a little daunting.

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