Emma Hutchinson’s first season of college softball is in the books, and yes, it was a learning experience for the former multi-sport standout from Holden.
More than anything, though, Hutchinson said she learned a lot about herself during her first season at Louisiana Tech.
“I kind of learned to trust the process a little more,” Hutchinson said. “My dad’s (Holden assistant principal Rusty Hutchinson) always told me that, but I actually learned it this year and lived through it, I guess you could say. I just learned that physically, I’m here for a reason and physically I can do it. It’s all mental. I’ve heard that all my life too, but I actually went through it and actually had mental growth and had a mental mindset change. I feel like that really helped me a lot. I feel like I learned how to have better mental attitudes toward school, softball and everything else.”
“I feel like I grew up a lot as person,” Hutchinson continued. “I still need some help doing some stuff that are adult things, I guess you could say, but individually, I feel like I did grow a lot.”
Hutchinson entered her senior season at Holden with designs on capturing a fourth straight Class B state championship, but COVID derailed those plans when the spring athletic season was canceled in April of last year. COVID also played havoc with the summer softball schedule, but Hutchinson said her travel team, which is based in Dallas, made up for lost time once play resumed, playing 21 games in a span of 10 days.
“It was weird because I was not used to going without softball for that long because normally I go from fall ball, to high school, to summer … It’s like a rotation,” Hutchinson said. “It was fun being back with my Texas people.”
There wasn’t much time for Hutchinson to get comfortable when Louisiana Tech coach Maria Winn told the team she was stepping down in late July, paving the way for Bianca Duran to be named interim coach in September.
When she arrived on campus, Hutchinson said she felt prepared for the challenge of playing college softball.
“I had worked out over the summer, so I wasn’t really intimidated by the workouts, and I played basketball for Craig Forbes, so I think I was pretty mentally tough,” Hutchinson said. “I definitely went in trying not to be intimidated. I just went in with confidence like I’m supposed to be here. I’m meant to be here, so I’m just going to give it my all.”
Once the season started, it didn’t take long for Hutchinson to make an impression as she pitched three innings of scoreless relief after starter Audrey Pickett was hit on the hand. Hutchinson gave up three hits and three walks while striking out six to get her first college win.
“It was like, ‘OK. This is it. This is what I’ve been working for. This is it.’ I was nervous, but it was good nerves,” Hutchinson said, noting Pickett also help keep her focused with encouragement. “I think the adrenaline kind of helped me a little bit. I got those first three outs in the fifth inning, and I was like, ‘Alright, this is it. This is good,’ and I just kept it going from there.”
From there, Hutchinson picked up the win in a 7 2 victory over Southern, giving up no hits and no runs while striking out one in four innings of relief.
“I just felt good,” Hutchinson said. “That was a good day for me. It was a good day for the team. We really needed that win, and it was a good day.”
Hutchinson started in a 9-8 win over Tarleton State in which she gave up five hits, a walk, three runs and struck out one in four innings but got a no-decision.
In her only loss of the season, she gave up two hits, two runs and a walk in a third of an inning as Stephen F. Austin picked up a 4-0 victory.
That started a rough patch for Hutchinson, who got a no-decision in Louisiana Tech’s 7-5 loss to Montana. She also gave up four hits, three runs, two walks and struck out two in two innings of relief in a 10-6 win over Memphis before giving up six hits, four runs and two walks in 1.1 innings of relief in an 8-0 loss to Tulsa.
“I really don’t know how to explain it,” Hutchinson said of the rough patch. “I think it was just a mental thing, and it was a thing I had to grow through and get over that wall. You know, you keep running into the wall, you’ve got to get over it eventually. I think I got over it, and next year, I’m ready to go ahead and get over all the other walls that I’m going to hit.”
On top of that, Hutchinson said she was homesick, missing her close- knit family.
“I had been at the same school with my parents since I was in kindergarten, so that’s a big adjustment,” Hutchinson said. “I would talk to my parents every day, and it was just an adjustment being away from home. I’m a very independent person, but I feel it doesn’t matter how independent you are, going away from home is going to be a challenge and going to be difficult. It was just mainly that. I just missed my family and missed home a little bit.”
Still, her parents did their part to alleviate some of her troubles.
“My parents came to every game they could, which was literally almost every game,” Hutchinson said.
“Even if I wasn’t pitching, they would still stay the whole time,” Hutchinson continued. “It was really nice having them there and having a good support system. They would normally try to bring one of my siblings, so it was good to see all of them. It was just nice. They were really good parents and fans this year, and I’m just grateful for all they did.”
Hutchinson bounced back to strike out a career high nine while giving up two hits and five walks in six innings to get the win in an 8-1 victory over Grambling.
“I just had a different mental approach to everything, and I really was more focused in my bullpens and I kind of did my own stuff,” Hutchinson said of working through things.
“When you’re in a bullpen, you’re there with all the other pitchers, so I would just kind of zone in, not really talk a lot, just be in my own lane right there,” Hutchinson continued. “It was really just a mental change.”
Hutchinson finished the season with a 3-1 record with nine appearances, with four starts while compiling a 4. 50 ERA as Louisiana Tech relied on its veteran pitchers more during conference play.
“I never really looked at it like, ‘Oh, I’m a starter (or) I’m a reliever,’” Hutchinson said of her role on the pitching staff. “I’m just a pitcher, and I’m just going to go in and pitch whenever the coach calls my name, and I’m just going to do my best every time.”
She said her role changed a bit later in the season.
“I knew that even if I wasn’t pitching, I had to still be in the game, so I was trying to be the best cheerleader I could be, the best teammate I could be picking everybody up and making sure everybody had good attitudes and just staying pumped up in the dugout going crazy,” Hutchinson said. “Being a pitcher and being a part of a staff, I feel like as pitchers, it’s easy for us to cheer each other on because we’re used to being with each other all the time and cheering each other on even in bullpen workouts. We’re used to sharing that playing time.”
Louisiana Tech finished the season 22-30 with a 10-10 conference record on a team Hutchinson said featured seven freshmen and five transfers.
“We only had three girls, I think, from the Tech team that won conference in 2019, so I think we went through a lot of growing pains this year,” Hutchinson said. “I feel like next year will be a lot different and a lot better for all of us.”
Last month, Louisiana Tech hired former Nevada coach Josh Taylor to take over the program.
“What he’s told us so far and what we’ve talked about is really exciting,” Hutchinson said. “We got to design our gloves last week. It was just so much fun. I can’t wait to get up there and meet him.”
Hutchinson said she played in one tournament this summer, and she’s working with a trainer to get better prepared for next season.
“It’s definitely different, but I feel like it’s given me a lot of time to work on myself individually, just getting stronger, faster and everything and then working on little quirks in my pitching,” Hutchinson said of not playing a full schedule of summer ball.
“I’ve been working out this summer and doing some personal work and personal growth, so I’m ready to go back next year and really give it my all and hopefully win a conference title.”