Pitchers work together for good of Falcons

Whitnall's Dudek, Wagner form winning tandem

April 17, 2012

Greenfield - Upon taking over the Whitnall softball team this season, new head coach Tom Hickman found himself in an extremely fortunate spot.

The Falcons have not one, but two high-quality pitchers in senior Carolyn Dudek and sophomore Carly Wagner. Dudek is a four-year starter, while Wagner is a promising varsity newcomer.

However, Hickman's good fortune actually runs even deeper.

Dudek and Wagner complement each other beautifully. Dudek is the classic power pitcher who can overpower hitters, and Wagner relies more on control and is good at keeping them off-balance.

Mentoring, not fighting

Moreover, there is no jealousy between the two, no squabbling over who should hold the top spot. Instead, Dudek has become a mentor to Wagner, and the two of them help out each other whenever possible.

All of which helps Hickman in his coaching job.

"It's nice to have two pitchers like that," said Hickman. "It definitely makes my life a little bit easier."

The Falcons came into this week at 3-0 and faced a huge test in their first game back from break Tuesday against perennial power New Berlin Eisenhower, also 3-0. A victory, or even a strong showing, against the Lions would set them up for a strong season.

"I think we have the ability to do very well this year, considering our strong start," Wagner said. "We have a lot of young talent and if we continue to develop as a team, we should do very well."

The key to the season, as it usually is in high school softball, will be pitching, and Whitnall looks to be in good shape there with Dudek and Wagner.

Power vs. finesse

Dudek attacks opposing hitters with a deep repertoire of pitches, including the fastball, changeup, drop ball, rise ball, off-speed and curveball.

She enjoys her status as a power pitcher, saying, "It puts the game in my hands pretty much (with strikeouts)."

Wagner, by contrast, uses finesse to retire hitters.

"I'm not a power pitcher, as I work harder to control placement and movement of my pitches," she said. "I think it's more important to vary speed on different pitches to keep the batter off-balance. I try not to throw the same pitch back-to-back so the hitter can't sit on any particular pitch. (I want the hitter) to swing at my pitch."

Dudek, as the veteran, is happy to share her knowledge with Wagner.

"She is a sophomore and played junior varsity last year, so she's not really experienced up in the varsity league," Dudek said. "I help her with how to speed up, how to be on varsity, what it takes to make it (on varsity) and be a good pitcher."

Wagner, for her part, is a willing student.

"Carolyn is a very intense pitcher who is great to learn from," she said.

Sharing tips to improve

The two work together nicely and often share tips on form and technique.

"She points out things that I'm not doing right, and I point out things that can help her in the long run, so that when I'm gone (next season), she can take over my spot," Dudek said.

Wagner added, "When I'm not pitching, I'm always there to support her."

Hickman said, "They counterbalance each other and play off each other really well. I think they work well together and are a very good complement to each other."

Both are longtime softball players. Dudek said she has been playing since she was 4 years old and started pitching at age 8.

"I just love softball," she said. "It's my thing to do. I can get away and go play softball, go hit some balls, go throw and just relax."

Wagner started playing at age 8 in Whitnall youth softball leagues when her father Kurt started a tournament team.

"I have been playing tournament ball ever since," she said. "I think this has prepared me well for high school ball."

Both blank teams

Both pitchers posted shutouts in the season's opening week. Dudek hurled a one-hitter and struck out 13 in five innings in beating Wauwatosa West, 21-0, then Wagner allowed two hits and fanned six as the Falcons downed St. Francis, 13-0.

Dudek then hung tough, escaping several jams, in a tight 6-3 victory over Greendale right before the break.

Over recent years, a dynamic pitching duo has been a big help to some teams that played in the WIAA State Tournament.

In 2010, Homestead's Rachel Behnken and Bekah Rennicke teamed on the mound to help the Highlanders finish second to Kaukauna in Division 1.

Eisenhower's Lauren Beres and Kayla Schlegel combined for a 20-1 record and an earned-run average of 0.56 as the Lions claimed the Division 2 state championship in 2008.

Similarly, Oak Creek rode the arms of Val Stramowski and Laura Mortensen to a 17-3 record and a runner-up finish in Division 1 in 2005.

Hickman is hoping that Dudek and Wagner can lift the Falcons to the heights this season.

"It's all going to depend on how much Carly can grow and how Carolyn dials herself in, looking forward to the rest of the season," he said.

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