Ashley Obrest laughs when Allyson Frei starts to answer the question, knowing the list of schools that were interested in her freshman pitcher is going to be lengthy. Frei begins—Penn State, Florida State, Arizona State, North Carolina—but only gets as far as Virginia before being cut off by her coach.
“She was recruited by everybody,” the Boston College softball coach interrupts with another chuckle, giving the abridged version of the answer.
Frei does not say much of her years at High Point Regional High School in Branchville, N.J. After rattling off a few accomplishments—N.J. Gatorade Player of the Year, record for most strikeouts in state history, two state championships—she simply states that it was a “fun career.”
The response is part humble, part matter of fact—none of those things matter anymore. It wasn’t just a fun time, it was a fun career. But that career is over. A far more challenging one has already begun in Chestnut Hill.
The Eagles began to hit an early season stride earlier this month, going 4-1 in their second tournament of the year down in Georgia. Frei, however, was dealt her first major challenge of her fledgling collegiate career.
In the last game of the weekend against Binghamton, she was shelled in the first inning, giving up five runs. Yanked from the game, Frei immediately went to work analyzing her pitching on the sidelines. While she was tweaking her release away from the action, hot bats from BC tied the game and then put the Eagles ahead until the Bearcats reclaimed the lead in the sixth inning.
Putting in the extra effort, a determined Frei fixed the poor mechanics that plagued her in the first inning, cleared her head, and told her coaches that she was going to throw the ball better. And she did. With the game close, she returned to the circle and finished the game without allowing any runs. The box score may have been ugly, but the “W” next to her name—a reminder of an overcome obstacle—is all that mattered.
“We didn’t even think twice about putting her back in,” Obrest said. “When the game is on the line, when we are playing a really good team, or when we are in a big jam, we are going to turn to her.”
Aside from dealing with a new environment and distance from the comforts of home, a college softball player has to deal with a big jump in the level of play from high school. Every physical and mental aspect of a player is pushed to the limit as they adjust to a new strike zone and smarter, stronger hitters.
“A good pitcher coming in is used to having 10 strikeouts a game and going at hitters,” Obrest said. “But now we are throwing a scouting report in front of them, saying, ‘Hey this is what this kid can hit and this is how many home runs they had last year,’ so it’s a lot, it’s tough.”
Frei’s decision to come to BC—she equally highlighted both the school’s academics and athletics—fits with the nature of this beast, in which knowledge of scouting reports replaces some of the pure athleticism necessary to succeed.
A few pieces of paper, filled with every minor statistic and the smallest of player tendencies, suddenly becomes a part of Frei as a pitcher. Her relaxed pose on the rubber, followed by a burst of movement and swing of the arms, won’t bail out Frei every time. She now has to spend just as much time in the film room as she does on the field, and for the next four years, her brain will become her best friend.As 20-strikeout games fade into the memories of a high school yearbook, the only thing left to remember is whether the No. 2 hitter likes her pitches inside or outside.
Frei’s ceiling is very high. The freshman is not the type of pitcher to just go up and down or side to side with her pitches. She is going to hit every inch of the strike zone, and her game plan is never to go to one spot more than others. She throws a lot of different pitches, enabling her to switch things up on a whim, a trait that is essential in a game largely dependent on scouting. Frei might have to pitch nine different places for nine different batters and has to prove that she can consistently keep things mixed up at this high level.
“I’m trying to get them a little confused, and not sure where it’s coming,” Frei said.
Amid the chaos of the Conte media suite during a basketball game, Frei and Obrest share a laugh and quick smiles, as they break from discussing the more serious matters of the game. For a moment, the radio calls between security and managers fade into the background as the pair sit back, thinking of the greatest feeling in the world: a strikeout.
Frei dealing with a hitter inside and then outside, having her think one way, and then completely fooling her for a strike is the epitome of her game. For a pitcher that averages a little more than one strikeout per inning, the best feeling in the world happens a lot.
“You can have some fun with it,” Obrest adds, before jumping right back into an analysis of Frei’s performance this year.
Frei can serve a cold, hard dish of whiffs and backward K’s on a nightly basis. And she’s whipping them up in a 24-hour diner, as she has taken up the majority of work for the pitching staff.
Radiating a quiet confidence that has helped her out in the early part of the season, Frei has helped BC to its best start since 1998, when the team went 11-3 and made it to the NCAA Regionals. Through 14 games, Frei is 9-2 with seven complete games and 76 strikeouts.
“She was brought in here to pitch some big innings,” Obrest said. “She’s in good shape and she’s strong so she can do that.”
Yet Obrest knows that Frei hasn’t been completely happy with her game. Understanding the big adjustment period, Obrest and Frei are eager to get back to the drawing board, to dissect the numbers from the past couple of weekends, and get better from there.
Frei and the Eagles are especially looking forward to conference play, which starts with Florida State, a team that went to the College World Series last year.
Senior outfielder Annie Sommers, under the artificial light of the Alumni bubble, crosses her fingers in the shape of the hashtag as she recounts her tweet from a fall game against Boston University, during which bench players took control of the official BC Softball Twitter account.
Mid-game, Sommers posted a tweet that read, “Ally with a BIG K! #freiemup #sitemdown,” signifying that the freshman had sent yet another Terrier back to the dugout after three strikes.
“We were trying to figure out different hashtags for the girls, and Ally strikes a lot of people out, so it was pretty easy,” she says. “It just kind of stuck.”
The catch phrase is a common sight on BC’s Twitter feed. It highlights all the dominance of Frei as a pitcher. It reminds you of every time she mows down another hitter.
But it masks the whole story of a silent struggle to adjust to life in a completely different universe.
“The biggest challenge is finding the kind of pitcher I am in college,” Frei says, showing few signs of nerves, “because I know it’s not going to be the same as it was in high school.”
High Point Regional is in the rear-view mirror, and the daunting world of college softball is here and now. Tackling the game head on, Frei continues to devour scouting reports and work toward perfecting her powerful release in hopes of finding her new identity.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor