Trio of new faces tasked with replacing the most successful battery in Mason softball history
Bryan Hudnell | Staff Writer
The chemistry on and off the field between pitchers and catchers can be the difference between wins and losses for a softball team.
The Mason Comets know how important it is for pitchers and catchers to be on the same page after three years of 2017 graduates Elle Buffenbarger and Brooke Rice dominating the competition as the most successful pitcher-catcher duo to ever wear the green and white.
Buffenbarger is Mason’s career leader in wins (60), shutouts (30), and strikeouts (566). Rice was a four year varsity letter winner and a team captain. Both players are now playing softball at the collegiate level as Buffenbarger is attending Youngstown State and Rice is at Ohio University.
Freshman pitcher Sydney Carter was just in middle school when she first watched Buffenbarger and Rice play.
“We would come from the middle school and watch games,” Carter said. “I always remembered them having great chemistry on the field. It was a cool thing to watch.”
Junior catcher Grace Rieger was aware of the implications of replacing Rice the minute she reached the varsity level this year.
“I knew if I made varsity that I was going to replace Brooke,” Rieger said. “At first it was really intimidating. I had to tell myself that I wasn’t Brooke and I’ll never be Brooke but I’m going to be my own player and be the best player that I can be because I bring my own things to the table.”
Carter and junior Katie DeBord both share pitching responsibilities in the circle this year and are tasked with taking Buffenbarger’s place.
“I think there’s a little pressure to live up to Elle,” Carter said. “She set a lot of records here at Mason and me and Katie have to compete with that. I think we’re trying to hold ourselves to what she was and put our best foot forward.”
Junior Katie DeBord winds up to throw a pitch in Mason’s 12-0 win over Sycamore on April 9. DeBord has a record of 6-0 with 25 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched. Her earned run average (ERA) of 1.23 is eighth in the GMC. DeBord is in her first year as a regular starter after being the number two pitcher behind Elle Buffenbarger in 2017.
The two pitchers are off to a good start with a combined record of 9-1 and an earned run average (ERA) of 1.75 as of April 14. Pitching alongside Carter was an easy transition according to DeBord.
“I think Sydney and I are a good mix,” DeBord said. “We both have different pitching styles and throw different pitches so the batter doesn’t know what to expect. It is a new dynamic this year for sure.”
Rieger learned perhaps the most crucial lesson a catcher could learn watching Rice yell out different calls and signals to set the defense up.
“When you play catcher, you have to be the voice of the field,” Rieger said. “From watching Brooke, I’ve learned a lot of leadership skills and to be very confident when you go out there because the biggest thing about Brooke was when she walked out onto the field, she always had this presence where everyone knew she was there. It made me feel like I had to be the leader of the field.”
The trio have wasted little time getting familiar with each other on the field. Rieger is responsible for knowing the tendencies of both pitchers.
“I mean for the most part, I’ve already established that chemistry with Katie because me and Katie were both on JV our freshman year and we worked very well together. We’ve had tournaments in the winter where we’ve played together and Katie is always telling me that she likes the pitches that I call and what not and that chemistry is already being carried over into this season. Obviously Sydney is a freshman so we’re still getting there. I’m still learning her, she’s still learning me, but I think we’re doing pretty good so far.”
Mason has high aspirations for this season after being fresh off a 2017 OHSAA Regional Final appearance and will heavily rely on Carter, DeBord, and Rieger. After the hot start to the season, other teams are circling the Comets on their schedule.
“It’s such a good feeling knowing that you’re the team to beat and everybody is like oh no, we have to play Mason today,” Rieger said. “Elana Harrison always says that everyone always has their best game against Mason and it’s true because they have to or else you’re down fifteen. It’s great to see all the work we’ve put in since October pay off on the field and I hope we keep it going moving forward.”
Photo by Tanner Pearson.