HARRISONBURG – Turning 21 in August was significant for Heather Jenkins because it marked the year she’d graduate from Bridgewater College, and yes, she could legally drink. But ultimately, it was “just another year.”
The number 21 might carry a little more meaning after Saturday.
With just 73 pitches and three strikeouts, Jenkins retired 21 straight batters to become the second softball player in Eagles history to throw a perfect game, locating her screwball and curveball consistently on the corners to defeat Old Dominion Athletic Conference rival Randolph 2-0 in Lynchburg.
“I think it’s the best pitching accomplishment that I’ll ever have,” said Jenkins, a senior right-hander.
It was the first conference start this season for Jenkins, who threw 52 of her 73 pitches for strikes and was the obvious choice for ODAC Pitcher of the Week Monday.
“Heather was in complete charge the entire day,” said BC coach Donnie Fulk, who also coached then-freshman Lisa Rhodes during a perfect game in 2004. “...In a perfect game, everything has to [go right] – you can’t have a bad hop or anything – and she had a great defense behind her.”
Like the first perfect game in school history, a freshman had a hand in it.
About midway through the seven-inning contest, freshman right fielder Brooke Throckmorton, who was returning from an ankle injury, made a shoestring catch on a weakly hit fly ball to keep what Jenkins thought was a no-hitter intact.
“I don’t know if maybe she got a late jump on it or the wind was breaking and coming in,” Jenkins recalled. “It was just one of those freak things and she caught in near her ankle. It was a big sigh of relief.”
But it wasn’t until the fifth inning that the 5-foot-6 Locust Grove native realized she hadn’t walked anybody, either. Jenkins kept her cool, though. After all, “something always goes wrong later and it’s always at the end of games,” she said.
It likely helped to have a focus going into the weekend.
“My pitch count per inning was averaging about 13 per inning, and I think that’s a little high,” Jenkins said. “My main focus in Saturday’s game was lowering my pitch count per inning, and that meant relying on my defense and letting them hit the ball.”
It was a mindset she has developed naturally in college after trying to be more self-reliant through strikeouts as a freshman, Fulk said. Still, as the game inched closer to the seventh inning, Jenkins expected somebody to pop the question: “Hey, you realize you’re pitching a perfect game?”
After the final batter popped out to the shortstop, Jenkins left the pitching circle to find first baseman Brea Hinegardner – a former ace at Central High School – jumping into her for a celebratory hug.
On Monday, Jenkins received a congratulatory message via Facebook from Rhodes, a Turner Ashby High School graduate who finished her career at BC in 2007 with single-season ODAC records in shutouts (nine) and winning percentage, going 19-2.
Jenkins, who only pays attention to shutouts in the records department, entered the season ranked seventh on the ODAC all-time list with 16 shutouts (including a league-high seven last season). Now, she has 17, one behind Rhodes and eight away from the record.
Her first shutout of her senior campaign Saturday was a big one – perhaps even more impressive than Rhodes’ perfect game in a 6-0 win over Randolph-Macon, which Fulk said was not as strong in 2004 as Randolph is this season. The WildCats entered the week with 16 wins, the third-most in the ODAC.
Yet, Saturday will go down as Jenkins’ second-best pitching performance in Fulk’s book. What beats a perfect game? Apparently, a 1-0 win over 10th-ranked Coast Guard last year while opposing All-American senior pitcher Hayley Feindel, the Division III all-time leader in strikeouts (1,457).
“I told somebody at the time that if it was publicized that an All-American pitcher was pitching at the game that day and you came to watch the game, you wouldn’t have known which one you were looking for,” said Fulk, who is in his 22nd season at BC. “They were both throwing so well. It was the two best pitching performances in a game that I’ve seen since I’ve been coaching.”
Saturday certainly ranks high for Jenkins, who couldn’t recall ever pitching a no-hitter or perfect game beyond a three-inning slaughter-rule win over the summer. But the soon-to-be shutout queen of Bridgewater seems to like the doughnut in the opponent’s run column more than anything else.
“None of it is possible with just one person,” said Jenkins (6-2), who currently ranks fifth in the ODAC with a 1.43 ERA and seven complete games. “It’s a little bit of pride and realizing it’s a team effort.”