East softball pitcher surpasses 400 strikeouts

Mike Nesper
Bob Hallinen

The East High softball team has been nearly unbeatable the past two seasons, going 52-1 and winning consecutive Cook Inlet Conference and large-school state titles. The T-birds' dominance continues this season -- they've won all nine games so far.

Sydney Smith is largely responsible for East's prowess.

The senior pitcher had amassed 77 wins and 421 strikeouts in 87 career games as of Friday, and she still has half a season before her high school career ends. So far this spring, the righthander is 8-0 with 51 strikeouts.

Smith exudes confidence and calmness in the circle, but it's her accuracy that makes her so tough to hit, East coach Paul Schoenborn said.

"Her location is really good," he said.

So is her attitude. On the rare occasion when Smith has a subpar performance, she keeps fighting, East pitching coach Colleen Ng said.

Smith even keeps cool when an umpire's strike zone is inconsistent, she said.

"Nothing really frustrates her," Ng said.

A two-time CIC player of the year, Smith has put up ridiculous numbers. In addition to her impressive victory totals -- she won 20 or more games in each of her first three seasons -- and her strikeouts, Smith posted an ERA of 1.50 or lower as a sophomore and a junior. And she walked only 55 batters in her first three seasons, including a 2012 campaign in which Smith surrendered an astonishing five walks in 147 innings pitched.

Perhaps the most stupefying of all Smith's stats is her endurance. She has started 85 of 91 games while at East and has just nine losses, eight of which came her freshman year.

"She's like a little machine out there," Ng said.

Smith and her team's ability to make quick work of opponents enables East to use Smith in essentially every game. From 2011 to 2013, East's average game lasted just over five innings.

Smith's softball career began at age 9. On her fourth day of practice, she started pitching, and she hasn't stopped.

Being involved in every play is what appeals to Smith about the position.

"It keeps me into the game," she said.

Smith, who said she will play for Hillsborough (Fla.) Community College next season and hopes to reach the NCAA Division I level, revels in high-pressure situations.

"If there's a big game, I definitely want to be pitching," she said.

During the high school season, Smith said she only throws three pitches to maximize her effectiveness. Should a batter connect on a pitch, Smith said East's top-notch defense is always prepared.

"When they get a hit, I know my team will be ready to field," she said.

Schoenborn knew Smith was a capable pitcher when she joined the varsity program her freshman year, but she's surprised him.

"I didn't realize Sydney would be as consistent as she is," he said.

Even her first season was impressive -- Smith went 20-8 and started 27 of East's 29 games in 2011.

Gabby Meyerson is East's catcher. She's been behind the plate snagging Smith's pitches since they were in Little League. Over the years, Meyerson has seen Smith develop into a relaxed, confident leader.

"She has a mentality of the best pitcher in the state," Meyerson said.

Reach Mike Nesper at mnesper@adn.com or 257-4335.