355 days. That’s how long it had been since junior Cami Henry had looked into the eyes of an opponent when she finally stepped into the pitching circle for Saturday’s game against Simpson College.
After a standout first year, including being named the NCAC Softball Pitcher of the Year, Henry’s sophomore softball season came to a halt after only nine games. Henry moved home in March to Mooresville, Ind. not knowing when she’d be back at the center of a DePauw softball game.
The team swept their competition this weekend, starting out their season with four conference wins. Henry was named NCAC Pitcher of the Week following her performance in two of the four games against Simpson and Central. She struck out 12 in each game, walked only one batter, and allowed 11 hits total.
Henry said the team’s performance allowed her to elevate her own.
“Being comfortable and knowing that no matter who is on the field behind, that the job is going to get done really helps me to be my best self on the mound,” Henry said. “The team and I still have a ways to go to reach our goal of winning a national championship, but this weekend was a great start and is making me really excited about where we can go from here.”
But Henry’s success this weekend wasn’t won through the last few weeks of practice. She never stopped working. Because of COVID-19, an old, but reliable practice partner stepped up to the plate.
“My dad, who, God bless him, is 60 years old and absolutely adores softball, would put on his old catching gear that he used to wear when I was 12, and we would go out in the backyard and throw just to keep me in check,” Henry said.
Softball has long been a family sport for the Henrys. Her parents met playing slow pitch, and when Cami first showed interest, they started her in T-ball, coaching her every step of the way.
“When I was younger, it was fun because practice was in my backyard so all my friends came over to my house.”
Henry’s dad coached her travel softball team until she was 12. It was then that she decided it was time for him to just be her dad. “It wasn’t necessarily a ton of pressure, but there’s always that kind of stigma towards ‘daddy ball,’” Henry said. “Things like, ‘the only reason you get where you’re at is cause your dad is the coach.’”
Henry, a communications and Spanish double major, was a three-sport athlete all through high school. She enjoys being busy and knows how to work.
In Coach Erica Hanrahan’s eyes, Henry was meant to be a Tiger: “It is like the eye of the tiger with her focus and intensity. You know that she definitely wants to win and hates to lose.”
Choosing to pursue pitching meant Henry has always needed to dedicate extra practice time to the sport. In addition to team practices and weekend games, both school and travel ball, she had two hour-long pitching lessons each week.
“It was a lot of time for sure, but it makes it easier when you love it. I don’t look back and think ‘Oh my god. I spent so much time playing softball’ because it got me to where I’m at,” Henry said.
Henry wasn’t the only pitcher on the team when she got to campus as a first-year. She had to compete to claim her spot.
“Coming in, my mindset was, ‘I have to be the best. I have to prove to everybody that I deserve playing time,’” Henry said. “In travel ball, you need more playing time to be seen by all of these coaches. And so, coming in, that competitive edge was a little bit unhealthy in that I felt like my teammates were my competitors.”
She found a healthy balance, now counting herself lucky to have her teammates’ and coaches’ support whenever the demands of school and sport become overwhelming.
Unlike in baseball, softball has no rule keeping Henry from pitching all game every game because pitching “is a natural motion,” but Henry wouldn’t want to pitch a whole game.
“In reality, having to pitch every single game would be a big burden to take on, so I’m very, very lucky to have such a talented staff behind me,” Henry said.
Maintaining composure on the mound hasn’t always been easy for Henry. “I am somebody who is very emotional, and I also wear my emotions on my sleeve,” Henry said. “So learning how to control those emotions or channel them in a healthier way when I’m pitching was something that was very, very difficult for me to learn.
“I’m in the middle so everyone sees every single thing I do, every time. So if I look angry, if I look annoyed, everybody sees that, then it transfers to every other player on the team.”
Henry used to ascribe to the “fake it till you make it” mentality, but now her mindset on the mound is a little different.
“This sounds so bad, and I don’t mean for it to come across as cocky, but I just have to tell myself that every batter that comes up, ‘I’m better than you. You’re not going to hit me,’” Henry said. “If you go in with the mentality that you’re scared or, ‘Oh my gosh, this is a great hitter,’ nine times out of 10, they’re going to hit you.”
Many are waiting and watching to see what Henry accomplishes this year. Her performance as a first-year in addition to being named NCAC Pitcher of the Year made Henry a well-known player in the conference.
Henry credits NCAC Pitcher of the Year to her team.
“It reminded me, like, ‘Cami, you’re a good pitcher, but you have an absolutely phenomenal team behind you that is making your stats look good.’ I’m good from the standpoint of I get a lot of strikeouts, but my ERA is low because I have the best shortstop in the league behind me fielding balls that she should never get. I have catchers that I knew were going to block the ball if there was a runner on third base. I had powerful hitters in the lineup that were helping us get to that 19-0 conference wins,” Henry said.
More impressive than pitcher of the year for Hanrahan was Henry’s first team all region award. “It actually puts you up for All-American, and that’s on the national stage. That rarely happens in a freshman year,” Hanrahan said.
Four wins is an objectively good start to the season, and Hanrahan has high hopes that Henry will only continue to improve.
“She has pitches that just keep getting better. Her repertoire is bigger this year than it ever has been. She’s gone from four to seven pitches that we’re going to throw in a game day. You don’t usually add three pitches in a year. If you add one a year that’s considered enormous,” Hanrahan said.
While Henry claims to not be very superstitious, she always wears her hair the same way: two braids into a single ponytail, with a teal bow on top. “Look good, feel good, play good,” Henry said.
Her teal bow is an important part of her uniform; she wears it in remembrance of her friend and teammate who lost her battle with ovarian cancer.
“It’s a way to carry her on, but it also makes me feel better,” Henry said. “In that moment, she’s still there on the field with me.”