In high school softball, where a starting pitcher can suit up every single game on the mound for her team, the relationship between the staff ace and the everyday catcher can mean the difference between a great season or a miserable one.
For Lincoln pitcher Christine Collins and battery mate Tuai Tunai, that relationship could not be stronger — and the results are telling. The Mustangs are experiencing their most successful season in more than 20 years.
The senior duo has been the backbone of Lincoln’s historic run this season as the Mustangs have dominated the Academic Athletic Association, winning their opening 14 league games by an average score of 12-2. Now, Lincoln stands as the favorite to win its first AAA title since 1985.
"It’s pretty amazing to think about," Tunai said. "I mean, we weren’t even born yet the last time Lincoln won the title. I don’t know if we expected to be this successful this season, but now we really want to bring a title back to Lincoln."
The two have worked tirelessly together to help Collins emerge as the most dominant pitcher in the AAA, helping the senior ace compile 101 strikeouts and a stingy 0.54 ERA this season while racking up 16 wins.
"We’ve worked on really pitching for location," Collins said. "I pretty much only throw a fastball, so when I’m out there, Tuai and I try to find the best pitch placement for each batter I’m facing. I think we do a good job working together, sometimes when I get a little hyped up, Tuai will shut me up and tell me to concentrate. It works."
While Collins has been the Mustangs’ bulwark on the mound, starting every game, Tunai has provided the firepower from the plate, leading the Mustangs in batting average (.416), home runs (six, including three grand slams) and RBIs (35).
Collins and Tunai both garnered All-AAA first-team honors last season as juniors, but as seniors, they have elevated their game to even greater levels.
"They’ve been tremendous for us this season," said coach Kevin Grayson, whose team bears an overall record of 18-3. "I think they both work hard together to get better. They’re seniors and they’re definitely leading by example. They take time before and after practice to work together on their game and I think the results from that hard work are starting to pay off."
The Mustangs will get a stern test today against Lowell at Parkside field. With a 12-2 league mark, the Cardinals stand just two games behind Lincoln and, during the Mustangs’ 22-year title drought, Lowell has captured nine AAA championships.
In their previous meeting on March 15, the Mustangs skirted by Lowell 12-7, led by Tunai’s 3-for-5 performance and Collins’ complete-game effort.
"We know we still have a lot of games left to play," Tunai said. "We’ve been coming together as a team overthe past few months and we’re now real excited to keep playing and focused on getting that AAA championship."