She was trying her best not to give away any nervous ticks or signs of anxiety. When Hannah Allen first went out to the mound as a freshman for Lakeview softball, everything was a blur.
It was the first game of the year and she took the circle with her team already in a huge hole and didn't make it all that much better. She threw 31 pitches, gave up seven hits, six earned runs and walked one.
"I was scared. I was shaky. I didn't want to talk to anyone," Allen remembers. "I was a freshman so I didn't know anybody and I didn't want to talk to anybody."
Most astounding about that outing, considering where she is now, is that she didn't strike out a single batter. Just an inning of work doesn't provide much of an opportunity, but it's still an interesting fact to consider based on what's happened since that day.
Fifty-one games later and she has already reached 233 career strikeouts including 169 this year - a new single season program record.
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That meek, shy 13-year-old eventually found her way and put together a 7-10 season with a 5.23 ERA and 64 strikeouts. Lakeview was in the field for 116 and 1/3 innings in 2020 and Allen tossed 80 and 1/3 of those.
As a sophomore she threw 75 of the 79 innings, went 15-9 with a 4.01 ERA, struck out 169 and walked 47. The 169 Ks passes the previous single-season mark set by Nicole Sempek in 2007 by 11. The career record is held by Janice Alswager who pitched from 1996 to 1998 and compiled 367 strikeouts. Allen is 135 away from breaking that mark with half of her varsity career still ahead of her.
"As long as I've known Hannah I've known that she has a drive for softball, so it hasn't surprised me that she's improved as much as she has," coach Jasey Reinhart said. "Even coming in last year, she was surprising with how good she was. But then all the work in the offseason and in the summer and the work with her pitching coach, she's very goal driven. She sets goals for herself, and she's a stats pitcher. She looks at her numbers and she knows where she's at."
Allen tossed in relief the first two appearances of her career and made her first start at a weekend tournament against Weeping Water where she went five innings and earned the win with just two hits, a walk and 10 strikeouts.
If the first time out there wasn't any indication of future potential, the first start certainly was. She went on to record at least one strikeout in all but three of her remaining starts.
Allen had at least one K in every appearance this year other than a third of an inning against Aurora in the final regular season game. She struck out 10 or more hitters four times included 14 against Aquinas Catholic and 13 against David City in back-to-back starts in a Sept. 14 triangular.
Allen has played with several of the girls on those rosters in the summertime and took some minor satisfaction with striking out her friends.
"I find a mindset when I'm warming up, then we I go out there I do it like it's just me practicing out there," she said.
Digging even further into her numbers only testifies more to her quality. This season she threw 67% of her pitches for strikes, threw 64% of her first pitches for strikes, hitters swung and missed at her stuff 15% of the time, held hitters to .243 and induced weak contact on 79% of her pitches that were put into play.
She also emerged as one of the top hitters on the team, driving in 19 runs, fifth-best on the team, scoring 20, drawing a team-high 15 walks and putting together the third-best on-base percentage at .410.
A big help was Paxton Lusche. Lusche moved to catcher in the offseason and quickly developed into a reliable, trustworthy battery mate.
"Last year we didn't talk much, but this year we worked together during the offseason and built up a relationship between us that spread out to the rest of the team," Allen said.
Lakeview went 17-10 this past fall and reached the program's highest win total in 12 years. Several factors led to that; everyone was better than the year before, and that's certainly true for Allen.
"It's crazy. I was 14 going into the season, turned 15 at the end at September," she said. "People don't realize how young that is for doing that kind of stuff."
From 10 wins in 2020 to 17, from 64 strikeouts to 169, from an ERA over 5 down to 4, and so on and so forth, what's the next step for Allen and her teammates?
"She's not just going to set the record and think, 'OK, cool.' She's going to use that to push herself for sure," Reinhart said. "That's the type of player that she is."
Nate Tenopir is the sports editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at email@example.com.