Eric Atherton: Hayfield senior pitcher takes one for the team

Hayfield’s Jackie Sanvick pitches against Chatfield last Wednesday at Todd Park in Austin. Sanvick may not have had her best game against Wabasha-Kellogg, but her determination to stick out a rough outing should not go unnoticed. The complete-game helped preserve sophomore pitcher Jacinda Gustine for Game 2, which ultimately led to Hayfield winning the Section 1A title.

One of my pet peeves about Major League Baseball is when a struggling pitcher looks into the dugout or the bullpen. The message is clear — he wants his manager take the ball out of his hand and end his suffering. It takes courage to absorb a thorough beating, and not many big-leaguers are willing to do it.

By way of comparison, I offer the example of Jackie Sanvick, a senior pitcher for the Hayfield softball team that on Thursday defeated Wabasha-Kellogg 12-4 to claim the Section 1A title.

Sanvick didn't play in that game. She was the losing pitcher in the first game of the evening (Hayfield was undefeated, so W-K needed to beat them twice), and Sanvick's stat line wasn't one she'll be clipping to put in her scrapbook. She yielded 20 runs on 22 hits, and, by my unofficial reckoning, 18 of those runs were earned. She had one strikeout. She faced 46 batters and retired just 21 of them.

Yet, one can make a strong case that Sanvick was among the biggest heroes of the night for state-bound Hayfield, because by staying out there, she let coach Jana Wagner save sophomore pitcher Jacinda Gustine for the second game.

Emotions in check


It's worth noting that Sanvick didn't pitch badly. I've never seen a pitcher so victimized by seeing-eye grounders and bloopers that barely dented the outfield grass. Of the 22 hits she yielded, just two were for extra bases, and her teammates would be the first to tell you that several hits should have been outs.

But Sanvick's demeanor on the mound never changed. I watched for any sign of frustration, and I saw none. That's not to say she wasn't frustrated.

"I've never played in a game where we've lost 20-8 and they've gotten that many hits off me," she said the day after the game. "I was frustrated a lot, but letting it get to you just brings the whole team down. I knew I needed to stay focused and do my part."

As the hits and runs mounted, she talked to coach Jana Wagner. "I asked coach if there was anything I could do to change my pitching, because they just kept hitting and hitting," she said. "I told her that if she thought it was a good idea to take me out and put Jacie in, then she needed to do whatever was best for the team."

But what was best for the team was to keep Gustine out of the circle until the second game, so Sanvick kept taking the ball. "There were a lot of things going through my head," she said. "I started to freak out a little, and it was hard to stay focused and to not tell the coach to pull me, but I knew I had to hold it together. There was a game that needed to be pitched, and it was my job."

Wagner knew she was asking a lot of her pitcher. "Persevering through probably the toughest game she's ever pitched, she showed the rest of the team her strength," Wagner said. "She was ready to give up the ball if coaches thought she should, but she was also ready to push on if we needed her to. Bringing in Jacie Gustine at that point probably would have helped the Falcons hitting in the second game."

Tough times, tougher player

It's in Sanvick's nature to be a battler. At just 5 foot 2 inches, she's not the typical softball pitcher, and she can't overpower many hitters. She has to hit her spots and rely on her defense.


Further compounding her situation is a painful back problem that began last summer, flared up during basketball season and ultimately forced her to miss a big chunk of the softball season. She now wears a back brace while she's pitching.

"I sometimes have pain while I'm pitching, and I can be pretty sore the day after a game," she said. "I've had to change my entire pitching motion this year because of my back."

As I talked with Sanvick, I couldn't help comparing her in my mind with Twins pitcher Phil Hughes, who last month was removed from a game after just 75 pitches because he had some soreness in his right shoulder. The Twins were winning with him on the mound, but after he gave up a run, he was lifted, and the Twins' bullpen blew the game.

Jackie Sanvick had a built-in excuse, ready and waiting to be used as the runs piled up. All she needed to say was, "Coach, my back is hurting," and she'd have been out of the game and out of the line of fire. Yet she kept pitching, got 21 outs and then watched her teammates deliver a decisive victory in the game that mattered most.

"When we started getting runs and Jacie started getting outs in that second game, I totally forgot about the first game," Sanvick said.

I don't know if Sanvick will pitch Thursday as Hayfield takes on Cherry High School in the first round of the state softball tournament, but I'm certain that whether she's on the bench or in the game, she'll be leading by example.

Jackie Sanvick

What To Read Next
Get Local