It’s an experiment that has true benefit and merit, but also one with a big hill to climb before permanent implementation throughout...
Pat Moore is who she is, even when she's Kristen Moore.
You say that doesn't make sense? Well that's only one facet in the unpredictable life of the 14-year-old South Medford freshman.
Standing 5-foot-5 and only 95 pounds, Moore appears to be a shadow of what one normally expects to see inside the softball pitching circle.
While that image may not strike fear in most opponents, one wonders what it does to those same batters moments later when they're sent down on strikes by the slight left-hander, who averages nearly 12 strikeouts per game.
"You step up and think maybe you're going to be a little more confident against her because she doesn't have that look like we've seen in our league with Maryssa Becker or Renee Murphy or Taylor Schmidt," says Panthers head coach Miranda Gillaspie-Smith, "but she's very smooth and just kind of flows as she sends (the pitch) in and all of a sudden it pops right past you."
If she was willing to let anyone in, Moore might offer up a smile of satisfaction each time perception was turned on its head by reality. Then again, that's not who she is.
"I try to keep my emotions inside because I don't want to show anyone if I'm happy or sad," Moore insists. "It's just part of the game when you're a pitcher, you don't want anyone to tell if you're having the best game of your life or worst game of your life. You want to be like ice out there."
If that's the case, then Moore's been pretty frosty when it comes to quieting bats thus far in her debut season at the varsity level. She enters today's doubleheader at North Medford, which is No. 1 in the Class 6A power rankings, with a 7-7 record and 1.12 ERA. Opponents are batting only .134 against her and she's struck out 162 with 40 walks in 88 innings.
"She's really stepped up," says Gillaspie-Smith, whose team is 7-8 overall and 2-4 in Southern Oregon Hybrid play. "It's a big role for a freshman but knowing her and the way she competes, it's a spot she's had her eye on for a couple years."
That theory can't be denied by Moore, whose birth name is Kristen but was tagged at an early age with the nickname "Pat" by older sister Rachael, who wasn't so fond of the name Kristen.
"There are about 20 nicknames that go along with it, from patty melt to patty-cake to anything you can think of," says the girls' father, Brett Moore. "Everyone's just always called her Pat in the softball world, but her teachers know her as Kristen. The other day one of her teachers said to her, 'Kristen, I heard you play softball, do you know Pat?' We all kind of laughed about that."
What is no laughing matter has been the Moore family's dedication to the sport of softball. Ever since they were little, Rachael and Pat have honed their craft through almost daily pitching and hitting to go with experience on various summer travel teams.
"Her knowledge of the game is well beyond a lot of freshmen you see," says Gillaspie-Smith. "That's from experience and effort and a commitment the family has put in to travel up and down the West Coast to play so many games."
Moore got her first taste of softball when she started playing catch with her dad around age 6. Her older sister and teammates were also a huge source of inspiration for Moore, who immediately knew the role she wanted to play when her time came to take the field.
"The first day I stepped on the field I saw the older girls pitching and I knew I wanted to be in the circle and control the game," she says.
While Rachael played in her games, Pat would walk among the spectators and emulate the pitching windup she was seeing. It didn't take long before that was her standing inside the circle, albeit with a more unique delivery as a left-hander.
"I definitely think that sometimes it can be an advantage being left-handed because the girls aren't used to seeing that," says Moore, "but I think any pitcher who has movement or any number of pitches has an advantage whether they're small or tall."
Over the years, Moore has worked diligently at creating movement with her pitches, along with an ability to hit spots with any array of pitches at any point in the count. If anything, that's been her biggest asset thus far.
"I always just try to use my pitches and try to make the batter have to think about what they're hitting and what's going to come," she says. "Using different pitch sequences has really been a big key for me."
And when Moore's on, she's really on.
In a season-opening, five-inning win over Ashland, she struck out the first 11 batters she faced and finished with 15 strikeouts overall. She had a career-high 16 strikeouts in a one-hit shutout victory over Redmond, then returned in the second game to strike out nine batters in 32/3 innings of hitless relief.
Moore's 16 combined strikeouts helped hold Roseburg down long enough for South Medford to earn a rare twin-bill sweep on the road against the Indians, and she was marvelous inside the circle the last time the Panthers faced North Medford, striking out 13 with one hit and two walks allowed in a 1-0 loss.
"I was pretty proud of the last game when we played North," says the southpaw. "I know we lost but we played really well together. We didn't win but it was a good game for us because it gave us some confidence knowing that we could play with one of the best teams in the state. Everyone was working as hard as they could and it was just a good bonding moment for us. We were all together, putting it all out there for each other."
A big misconception is that Moore's actively trying to pile up strikeouts during her games. In reality, her goals aren't that personal.
"I'm just trying to get us through the game and make it be a game where we can compete," she insists.
In fact, the only thing Moore truly takes personal is the relationships forged on a Panther team she's watched from the outside for years and is now thrilled to be going to battle with.
"All the girls I've been playing with now have always been really big role models," she says. "I wanted to be just like them so it's been a lot of fun and a really good opportunity to play with them."
That goes double for her sister Rachael, who was an occasional teammate during offseason softball but is now a vital full-time teammate. Rachael Moore leads South with 16 RBIs to go with seven runs and a .354 batting average as a second baseman.
"The highlight to this year is definitely playing with my sister," says Moore, who also plays first base and center field and is hitting .367 with a team-best 15 runs to go with 10 RBIs from the leadoff spot. "She's always there to support me and we've kinda supported each other through thick and thin throughout the season. We have such a great team but when you have someone in your family with you like that, it's just a little bit more supportive."
Given the circumstances, according to Moore, there's plenty to be positive about when it comes to this year's Panthers and the blossoming softball program. South Medford already has secured its most wins since an 11-16 campaign in 2011 and a strong finish could result in the Panthers finishing third in the SOH and earning an automatic state playoff berth.
Senior Brittany Miller leads the Panthers with a .417 batting average and has scored 13 runs, while senior catcher Tia Garrett is hitting .326 with nine runs and seven RBIs to help the cause.
"I'm really happy with how we've been performing and working as a team," says Moore. "I think we might surprise some people with how well we do this year. We know we got picked last in the conference but that's just giving us fuel to win more games."
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry