LAFAYETTE — Christina Hamilton admits she’s always been ready for the spotlight in Louisiana-Lafayette pitching circle.
It’s just been a matter of getting the chance.
Hamilton, the Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of The Year, was expected to play a supporting role behind 2013 ace Jordan Wallace, who was 59-11 in her first two seasons at UL-Lafayette.
But it’s been Hamilton who has emerged this year.
“I always prepared myself to be in (this) situation, because at any moment, you have to be ready for it,” said Hamilton, a 5-foot-9 junior from Leesville. “I think I was ready for this and as the season went on, I just evolved into it.”
Hamilton is in her fourth season at UL-Lafayette and began the season with a 2.30 ERA. After throwing 16 games as a sophomore, she underwent knee surgery and did not make an appearance in 2012.
Last year, with Wallace carrying the Cajuns, Hamilton pitched in only 16 games, starting five.
Coach Michael Lotief said it’s been a matter of Hamilton (27-2, 1.53 ERA) getting her chance.
“Christina has been in the back of the line for so long, I think now she is relishing this ride,” Lotief said. “I think this season she has shown tremendous mental toughness and has been connected more to her teammates. It’s not all about her.”
Lotief said Hamilton’s knee surgery was a major setback because of lingering complications.
“I think she may have lost some motivation because of that and I think after that she kind of resigned herself of being a backup,” he said. “This year (Hamilton) recommitted herself to getting in shape and she went out and has gotten it done.
“That’s what I love about the game; it’s one of redemption and second chances.”
One of the differences in her performance this year has been a different mental approach, Hamilton said.
“My mental process has developed a lot. I came into the season not worrying about the here and now. I just wanted to pitch, no matter what,” she said.
Hamilton said her assortment of pitches has also expanded.
“After last year, all I had a rise ball and a drop. I’ve got a changeup now, something which is not perfect, but I’m working on it,“ she said.
Hamilton arrived at UL-Lafayette widely acclaimed after striking out nearly 1,000 batters during her final two years at Class 2A Rosepine High School. At UL-Lafayette, Hamilton has demonstrated similar control, but there is also the intent to let her defense share the load.
“I always trust my defense,” she said. “They might make an error here and there, but they always get it done for us.”
Hamilton has pitched the Cajuns into the first game of Friday’s super regional against Arizona, set to begin at 8 p.m. at Lamson Park in Lafayette.
Arizona, one of the nation’s top offensive teams, has hit a national-best 106 home runs and sports a .355 team batting average.
“I’m not worried about going out and facing them. You have to trust your defense,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton usually pitches wearing what appears to be glasses, but they are not really functional because the lenses have been removed. It’s a ritual she started in high school.
“Every athlete has a superstition, something that gives them a good feeling,” Lotief said. “For (Hamilton), it’s the glasses. There was a time when she took them off. I told her to put them on. She’s more confident when she has them on.”