Softball

Sydney O’Hara embraces role as relief pitcher after switching from starting spot

Logan Reidsma | Senior Staff Photographer

Sydney O'Hara has pitched more in relief this season that in any other year of her career. She started 37 games her first two seasons and just one in 2016.

Sydney O’Hara has always been a starting pitcher.

The right-hander started every game in the circle for Cicero-North Syracuse High School, she said, and continued as a starter when she came to Syracuse for college.

“Throughout my entire life, I started mostly every game,” O’Hara said. “I’m used to starting.”

But because of the effects from an injury she suffered last season, O’Hara has been taken out of her comfort zone. Her innings are limited, and she’s now entering games in relief instead of starting them. The junior has started just one of the 22 games she’s pitched in this season, but with a conference-best 1.30 earned run average, O’Hara is excelling in her new role.

She’ll likely enter in relief when Syracuse (25-21, 9-11 Atlantic Coast) hosts Siena (21-16, 6-6 Metro Atlantic Athletic) for a doubleheader on Thursday with games at 3 and 5 p.m.

“It’s more of a mindset that ‘this is what I’m going to be from this point on,’” Syracuse head coach Mike Bosch said. “She was able to handle that.”

As a freshman at SU in 2014, O’Hara started 27 of the Orange’s 49 games and was a first-team All-ACC selection. With 16 wins and an ERA of 3.83, O’Hara turned in one of the best freshman pitching seasons in team history.

But then in the spring of her sophomore season, she was diagnosed with golfer’s elbow, a condition that sidelined her for the rest of the season.

“The injury really tore me apart, but when I came back, I worked twice as hard,” O’Hara said. “I knew I had to do something to help the team — even if it was going in one or two innings at the end of the game.”

After working back from her injury in the offseason, O’Hara was thrust into her new role out of the bullpen this spring, usually seeing between one to four innings per game. She’s had to adjust her routine, considering she’s usually taking the circle after playing the outfield for a few innings, instead of just coming straight from warm-ups. Sometimes she’ll play left field, run in to warm up and then bat before playing left field again.

“It’s hard doing all of that,” O’Hara said.

Despite the adjustment and return from injury, O’Hara allows just 0.6 hits per inning — the best on the team. Her 4.3 hits allowed per seven innings is 10th best in nation.

On Feb. 19, though, Bosch approached O’Hara to tell her that she’d be starting her first game of the season in just the fifth game of the year. She looked at him, wide-eyed, and said, “Wait, what?”

She lasted 2 2/3 innings, giving up just two hits and no runs, but it’s been her only start of the 2016 campaign.

Being a reliever is her new comfort zone. Starting games is what’s unusual. And O’Hara is not in any hurry to get her old role back.

“I have taken on the role (as a reliever) and dealt with it,” O’Hara said. “I guess (becoming a starter again) will just take time.”

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