Diamond dominance


What is dominance in sport? A hulking defensive tackle manhandling a lineman en route to a quarterback sack, something Pat McGee '02 did a school-record 10 times last fall? A basketball player who can't miss, like shooting guard Shannon Russell '04, who sank a school-record eight three-pointers in a game last winter? Players can often dominate a game, or even a string of games. A runner or swimmer can dominate a race or meet. But Amherst's most dominant athlete, arguably the most dominant athlete in school history, doesn't just take over a game once in a while or ride out an occasional hot streak. Lauren Peloquin '02 dominates entire seasons, controlling the outcome of nearly every game, one by one, year by year, opponent by opponent.

During a stellar career in which she's shattered every softball pitching record the college has to offer, Peloquin has had more of an impact on her sport, her team, than any athlete in recent memory, and she has the statistics to back it up. With almost machine-like efficiency, Peloquin, who comes from Berkley, Mass., has pitched in 87.3 percent of Amherst's 110 games since arriving on campus. That's 96 mound appearances (and counting) over the last four seasons. During that span she's accrued 64 of Amherst's 75 victories (85.3 percent), pitched a whopping 592 innings, struck out 708 batters, tossed 31 shutouts (including three no-hitters and a perfect game), held opponents to a minuscule .172 batting average and posted an almost laughable career earned-run average of 1.04—all school records, just like every other number on her pitching stat sheet. And, oh yeah, she's also a .375 hitter.

There's really no one to compare her with. Imagine Pedro Martinez pitching both ends of a doubleheader every time the Red Sox took the field. Now make him your best hitter, a great student, team captain and one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people you've ever met. Then subtract the $10 million salary. Come to think of it, who needs Pedro?

"She's clearly one of the finest student-athletes to come through Amherst College," says Head Coach Sue Everden, whose first season at Amherst's helm coincided with Peloquin's rookie year. "She basically says jump on my back and I'll carry you. I'm just sorry we haven't been able to produce more runs for her. If we had, she'd be even better—which is scary."

Peloquin burst on the scene in 1999, pitching every inning in her first season—that's 32 complete games—leading the Jeffs to the NCAA Tournament with a 23-9 record and a career-best 251 strikeouts. She was voted First-Team All-NESCAC, Second-Team ECAC All-New England and Third-Team All-American by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, and her pitching career was only beginning.

Lauren Peloquin '02 Career Pitching Stats





























































Her sophomore year brought similar success: a 17-5 record, 174 strikeouts and NESCAC Player of the Year honors. As a junior, Peloquin raised the bar yet again and was virtually unhittable. After a 10-0 start during which she didn't allow an earned run until the sixth game of the season, Peloquin finished with a 14-5 record, 170 strikeouts and an almost unheard-of 0.43 ERA—the fifth best mark in the nation. In recognition, the NESCAC created a new award, Conference Pitcher of the Year, for which she was the inaugural recipient.

Her skills are so polished and her mental approach so finely tuned, it's no wonder opposing batters walk away shaking their heads. Peloquin throws eight different pitches in as many different speeds and locations as you care to count. If you can't handle her fastball, try your luck (or lack thereof) with her drop, drop-curve, rise, cut, backhanded changeup, horseshoe changeup or knuckleball.

"I don't throw the fastest," she says with a shoulder shrug. "There are definitely pitchers in the NESCAC that throw harder than me. But if I'm changing speeds, mixing my pitches and hitting spots, I'm pretty confident that most girls aren't going to hit me. If they do, they probably won't hit it hard."

"I think it's a combination of her technique and the fact that she knows how to play with batters," added senior catcher Becca Binder '02, the only other senior on Amhert's roster and Peloquin's battery-mate for the better part of four seasons. "She really knows how to keep hitters guessing. She can make a pitch move or she can blow it by you. I really don't think there's a weakness in her pitching at all."

Part of her strength lies in the grace and sheer perfection of the mechanics she's honed pitching every day, even during the winter months. The same ballet-like movements are apparent in each delivery. Strong legs, developed through years of gymnastics training, extending into the longest stride possible, vaulting her body toward home plate in an aggressive heave. A blindingly fast arm circle, rapid enough to keep up with her lunging lower half, eyes focused on the target at all times. A crisp snap of the wrist, always at her hip, always at the same release point. All movements are precise, a home-plate umpire's dream, a hitter's nightmare.

Growing up in Berkley, a small town 42 miles south of Boston, you played either baseball or softball if you were interested in sports. The town team was fun but not very competitive. At 11, Peloquin began playing in nearby Taunton, where the softball was better. There she developed an interest in pitching and her father took note. Soon Pete Peloquin was gathering all the information on pitching he could find and bringing his daughter to coaching clinics on weekends. He even built a clay pitching area in the yard, where he'd sit on a bucket, acting as catcher, coach and father, sacrificing his shins for the greater good of his daughter's pitching prowess. Her thirst for the game continued to blossom.

"I played indoors and outdoors," she says. "If my team didn't have a tournament, I'd go play with other teams. A dome was built in Bridgewater and there were indoor batting cages in Taunton. I was at one or both every day. They let me show up whenever I wanted, and I'd pitch and hit until I was too tired to do it anymore."


"She's been throwing year-round for seven or eight years," her father recalls. "I started catching for her every day in high school. She's hit me in the shins many times, usually with drops and curves. There's nothing worse, especially in the summer when you're wearing shorts. She's actually left seam marks on my legs."

The hard work eventually paid off. Coyle-Cassidy Memorial High School had never seen a hurler like Peloquin, who first drew regional attention as a junior, throwing three consecutive no-hitters in the State Tournament, including two against teams that were previously undefeated. A pair of sub-sectional and conference championships followed, with Peloquin pitching every inning of every game, winning more individual accolades than her trophy case could accommodate.

Inevitably, a wealth of colleges came calling. Peloquin eventually visited and fell in love with Amherst, bypassing a bevy of Division I and II suitors for the balance of academics and athletics offered in the NESCAC.

She says she's found herself at Amherst, discovering a love for biology and her favorite subject, ecology. She spent five weeks last summer in the Caribbean rain forest studying hummingbirds, and is currently working diligently on her senior thesis, examining the economics of territorial defense in purple-throated Caribs.

Peloquin hopes to continue her diamond dominance through her senior year, in which she's 10-4 with a 1.31 ERA and 113 strikeouts through 17 games, and the Jeffs are a perfect 4-0 in conference play. Meanwhile, an older, wiser Peloquin has clearly matured as a pitcher, eschewing a strikeout-at-all-costs mentality for the occasional well-timed ground ball or pop-up.

"I used to try and strike everybody out, but I've found I can sometimes do the job with fewer pitches. When you have good defense, you can let them hit grounders. I still try for my share of strikeouts, but every once in a while it makes sense to conserve energy."

After softball, graduate school and a career as an ecologist beckon. All the while, Peloquin insists she'll continue to pitch "as long as I can find a place to play." In the meantime, it's a pleasure to step back and appreciate her softball career at Amherst. Who knows when we'll see her likes again?

—Kevin Graber
Sports Information Director

Photo: Frank Ward