The Pitt News

Kayla Harris surging in sophomore season

Kayla+Harris+pitching+during+March+20th+game.+John+Hamilton+%7C+Staff+Photographer+
Kayla Harris pitching during March 20th game. John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

Kayla Harris pitching during March 20th game. John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

Kayla Harris pitching during March 20th game. John Hamilton | Staff Photographer

By Kaitlin Cassidy / For The Pitt News

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Kayla Harris has one mission: Attack from the very first pitch.

She’s unrelenting on every batter. She dares them to swing at the pitches she whirls their way.

Harris is focused.

She’s focused on becoming a leader this season. Since former ace Savannah King graduated last spring, Harris, a sophomore from Chesapeake, Virginia, is determined to fill her role and take the Pitt softball team back to both the ACC and NCAA postseason, after finishing 32-22 last season.

“Even actually over the summer, I was thinking, Savannah’s gone, we have a freshman coming in, we have a senior now who is a transfer,” Harris said, “and then we have me.”

Sarah Dawson, a standout freshman pitcher, said if Harris is trying to make herself into a role model, she’s succeeding.

“She’s definitely a great mentor for me,” Dawson said. “[Since] the first day I came in here, she’s been the person I go to if I have a question.”

Dawson, who pitched Pitt’s first perfect game in program history last month, said Harris helped her in a previous game, when she was having a rough day on the mound.

“Kayla was there to help me figure out my thoughts and help me get myself together,” Dawson said. “[Harris] understands the position you’re in because she knows the work and the time we put in and the mentality we have to have. She absolutely helps me through my bad days, and I help her through hers. And we’re just there for each other.”

Harris, who plans to major in sports medicine or athletic training, works to limit her rough days by improving her technique with her pitching coach, Lauren Cognigni. Lately, she has focused on intimidating batters from very first pitch she throws.

“I am anticipating [that Harris is going] to get better as the season goes on,” Cognigni said. “I hope to see her continue to make adjustments every day.” 

It would be difficult for Harris to pitch much better than she already has this year. In 18 appearances thus far, she sports a 2.12 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 89.1 innings pitched.

Cognigni described Harris’ pitching style as more laid-back, not fretting over mistakes. She also noted that since last season, Harris has gained a clearer perspective of her role on the team. After a rough day on the mound, Harris is able to move past the off game and continue to make necessary adjustments.

“My pitching coach always tells me to attack,” Harris said. “That’s kind of like our keyword, is to ‘attack.’”

This “attack” mentality, to Harris, means accomplishing the first-pitch strike and relentlessly going after the batter, as she dares them to swing at one of her pitches.

Fellow teammate Maggie Sevilla, an infielder, said Harris has not only improved from last season, but that the pitcher is continuing to improve week to week.

“[Harris] has become more commanding on the mound,” Sevilla said. “We remind her, ‘Hey Kayla, you’re a boss. Be a boss out there.’”

The ACC might still view Pitt as an underdog within the league, but Harris’ goal for this year is to show that last season was no mistake, like she’ll try to do when she takes the mound against North Carolina 4 p.m. March 25.

“We have a whole new confidence,” Harris said. “I feel like we are a team to beat because of the statement we made last year.”

Despite the challenging task ahead of her, Harris doesn’t mind the pressure. In fact, high stakes or when the bases are loaded are when Harris performs at her best.

“I think that pressure lights a fire in me,” Harris said. “Like, ‘You know what? This is my game now. Come play my game with me,’ basically.”

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Kayla Harris surging in sophomore season