Softball: Work ethic, mentality set O’Connell apart

By Lauren Kirschman

When parents give their children advice, it often goes unheard or ignored. But when Alyssa… When parents give their children advice, it often goes unheard or ignored. But when Alyssa O’Connell’s mother told her, “There is always somebody out there better than you. Nothing is going to be handed to you,” O’Connell listened.

She carried her mother’s words with her to Pitt, where she’s now a senior pitcher on the softball team leading the Panthers with a 0.69 ERA. When asked how she would describe herself as a player, O’Connell recalled her mother’s guidance. She called herself perseverant.

“That’s what I’m most proud of: staying positive,” she said. “There are games when you don’t have it, don’t pitch well … as a pitcher, you feel like a lot of the loss falls on your shoulders.”O’Connell said she makes it her goal to stay focused and control herself the next time she’s on the mound after a tough outing, whenthe day’s batters might have gotten the best of her. The difficult times help her learn how to react in similar situations, she said.

“The hard times let you become where you are right now,” she said. “If things were always great, you wouldn’t want to work hard.”

O’Connell is 8-2 on the season, having helped guide the Panthers to a 22-6 overall record. She’s thrown 50.2 innings, allowing only eight total runs and striking out 53 batters.

She has thrown six shutouts this season, most recently in an 8-0 win over Robert Morris, in which she gave up three hits and struck out six batters.

Fellow senior and pitcher Cory Berliner said O’Connell is dedicated in every aspect of her life, whether on the field or in the classroom.

“Alyssa is a very hard worker and is dedicated to playing her best and being her best on and off the field,” Berliner said. “She is focused while playing and has a strong drive to win and encourages the team to play their best.”

Pitt head coach Holly Aprile also praised O’Connell’s work ethic, saying that since the senior arrived on campus her freshman year, O’Connell has focused on improving all of her pitches and on “soak[ing] up everything she’s been taught.”

“She’s always thrown the ball hard, but she recognized that in order to be successful at the collegiate level, she had to learn to hit spots better and work on mechanics and spin,” Aprile said. “She’s done a really good job of doing tons of work on her own through the summers.”

A second-year team captain, O’Connell holds the title this year along with Berliner and senior Reba Tutt.

As both a senior and a pitcher, O’Connell said she feels a responsibility as a leader.

“I’ve kind of always felt that I could lead people because of my outgoing personality,” O’Connell said. “As a pitcher, you have such an important role on the field … you can control the pace of the game and control a lot about the game.”

As O’Connell has developed from her freshman year, she said she has become more confident not only as a player, but as a leader.

“I was timid freshman year, thinking, ‘These girls are so much bigger and older than me,’” she said. “You gain a lot of confidence just by playing in general. My pitching has gotten better too, but I’ve mentally gotten a lot more confident.”

Last season, O’Connell picked up her first career no-hitter in a game against St. Francis. She finished the season with 23 starts, 12 wins, 12 complete-games and 165 innings pitched — all career highs.

The pitcher started playing softball when she was young, beginning her career as a T-ball player and playing until she was 5 years old. When her older sister started playing softball when O’Connell she was 10, O’Connell began getting involved as well. She started pitching around age 9.

“I mostly started playing because of my sister,” she said. “But my parents were really involved as well. I really liked doing it, and I was pretty good at it so I kept playing.”

At Camden Catholic High School in New Jersey, O’Connell was a four-time first team All-Olympic Colonial Conference selection and a four-time All-Parochial team selection. The school retired her jersey number following her senior season.

She chose Pitt mainly because of her chemistry with the team. She said that the group felt like family.

“Everyone really opened their arms to you,” she said. “It wasn’t only about softball, but also about creating friendships.”

A Turnersville, N.J., native, O’Connell also fell in love with the city of Pittsburgh and Pitt’s campus, adding that academics played an important role in her college selection process as well. An accounting major, O’Connell plans to get her master’s degree in accounting following graduation and then take her CPA exam.

Aprile said she’s as impressed with O’Connell’s work in the business school as she is with the pitcher’s performance on the field. The player earned a 4.0 last semester.Right now, O’Connell is focused on helping the Panthers achieve their goals for the season. Although she said the main goal is to go to the Big East tournament and win the championship in May, the team is intent on taking the season one game at a time.

“We have a saying, ‘Win every game. Win every pitch,’” she said. “We don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves. We want to have a really good bat, win the next game we play. Then we want to win every series, win two out of three.”

With her senior season already underway and the team off to a strong 22-6 start, O’Connell said she thinks this year will provide her with the most memorable moments of her career as a Panther.

“This is the best start we’ve ever had, everybody is super excited about this year. This will be my greatest moment, I can tell already,” she said.