TUSCALOOSA -- There's a challenge every offseason for Alabama's catchers to take each of the program's new pitchers out for dinner. Tabs are split and the fare isn't fancy -- this season, Reagan Dykes chose Chicken Salad Chick for Madison Preston and Courtney Gettins, the Crimson Tide's two new hurlers.
"If they're struggling, what you can say, how to get them motivated -- things that they want to hear from you," Dykes explained Tuesday. "You just have to know your pitcher. That's really what it comes down to. You have to have that trust between each other so they can rely on you as much as you rely on them."
A simple meal won't manufacture the intricate, sometimes unspoken, rapport pitchers and catchers require. That couldn't genuinely occur until Preston -- a freshman -- faced her first adversity.
It came quickly. Just after the left-hander recorded the first two outs of her Crimson Tide career, Penn State loaded the bases against her in the first game of the abbreviated Sand Dollar Classic last weekend.
"She really took her deep breaths and thought about what pitch she was throwing and how to make it work," Dykes said. "As the game went on, I thought she got better and better."
Preston induced an inning-ending ground ball. She spun a one-hitter in Alabama's 10-0, five-inning win against the Nittany Lions -- the first start of the drop-ball specialist's collegiate career.
"I've told her and (pitching coach Stephanie Prothro)'s told her if she keeps the ball knee high or below, no one can lift it and it's very difficult to hit," Tide coach Patrick Murphy said. "Usually it's just a rollover off the bat. She only had one strikeout and the defense played well behind her, Reagan did a good job of blocking her up."
Fifteen minutes later, she was one-upped.
Plenty of offense to go around in a 13-0 victory over Lamar, but throwing a no-hitter in your Alabama debut warrants Player of the Game honors! Congrats Courtney Gettins!#BamaSB #RollTide pic.twitter.com/q6dDURMvwn— Alabama Softball (@AlabamaSB) February 9, 2018
Gettins, the junior college transfer who pitched for New Zealand's national team, tossed a no-hitter against Lamar in her Alabama debut -- the first pitcher in program history to toss a no-no in the first start of her career.
"We were planning on if either one of them got in trouble to use the other one as the relief," Murphy said. "Once we scored all those runs, it was like, 'OK, she's staying in,' and that was an easy decision. Both of them, it's a confidence builder, and I know they were both nervous, too."
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Though Murphy acknowledged the competition was not to the level it will see this weekend in Hattiesburg, Miss., the duo provided a preliminary answer to one of the Crimson Tide's most pressing preseason questions -- depth behind senior ace Alexis Osorio.
Gettins and Preston twirled 10 innings of one-hit softball, issuing only four walks and striking out two.
Couple that with Osorio's complete-game shutout against South Alabama in the Tide's season-opener -- a game Murphy said Osorio graded a "B-minus" or "C-plus" performance -- and it's 17 straight scoreless innings to open the season.
Osorio is scheduled to start against the host Golden Eagles on Friday, ostensibly leaving the new duo to work against ratcheted up competition across the remainder of the weekend.
"The two have to pitch against a good team some time to see what they can do," Murphy said. "You got to throw them out there. I'd rather have them do that in the preseason, in the nonconference, than in the SEC."
This article is written by Chandler Rome from The Anniston Star and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.