He instructed little Kristi Janoske to throw some pitches. But after only two tosses, he set her aside.
“OK,” he exclaimed. “You’re a pitcher.”
Now that’s a great judge of talent.
Yeah, Janoske is a pitcher. The Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin senior is among the best in the state. In fact, she’s yielded just three earned runs all season. Janoske is 11-1 with an absurd 0.27 ERA, 93 strikeouts and just five walks in 77 innings. She set a state record in 2007 by pitching 83 1/3 consecutive innings without issuing a walk.
Janoske has started every game this year. The Lions are depending on her to carry them well into the postseason. They reached the Division II regionals in 2005 and 2006, but were upset in a district semifinal last season.
That’s a great deal of pressure for the rather right-hander, but one shouldn’t confuse her subdued personality with a lack of confidence. Quite the contrary.
“I like having pressure on me,” Janoske says. “When I’m pitching, I like that pressure and the feeling of being in control.”
She’s certainly been in control of opposing hitters for quite some time. Janoske has been the staff ace since her sophomore year. In 2007, she finished 22-5 with a 0.84 ERA and 230 strikeouts in 175 innings.
Yet she wasn’t satisfied. During the off-season Janoske began working on her repertoire and getting more movement on her pitches.
“She’s much better with her spin pitches now,” explains Lions coach Jack McParland. “She doesn’t throw much off speed, but she’s worked hard on developing her curve and other pitches. Now right-handed batters flinch and the ball drops in. She’s not really a power pitcher. She’s more of a finesse pitcher.”
That transformation came courtesy of her determination. During the winter, Janoske drove daily from Chardon to Niles to work with her pitching coach. The two-and-a-half-hour round trip, sometimes through heavy snow, would invariably set her behind in her schoolwork and put a damper on her social life, but the motivation to maximize her talent outweighed all other considerations.
The result was improved mechanics and a wicked drop curve and screwball to supplement her riseball. She continues to work on a change-up, but is hesitant to use it in crucial situations.
Janoske understands that to a great degree her team’s success this season is riding on her right arm. The seriousness in which she takes the sport goes against the grain of her off-the-field demeanor. She prefers not to downplay her responsibility to her follow Lions.
“I’m very competitive,” she says. “I like pushing myself and pushing other people. I’m always cheering for everyone on the team. When they’re at bat, I’m always screaming and yelling for them.
“I’m really serious on the field even though I’m kind of funny and I like to chill off the field. People who know me who see me play softball come up and say, ‘Wow, you’re so serious.” And I am serious on the field. Off the field, I’m just relaxing.”
McParland has been taken aback by her transformation.
“I remember when Kristi was at my summer camp eight or nine years ago,” he recalls. “She was the youngest kid in the camp and she was very enthusiastic, but she was very quiet. She’s still enthusiastic now, but she’s much more vocal. She’s getting more and more intense every single game.”
The coach knew early in her career that she would eventually receive media attention, so he did a little role-playing with his standout pitcher.
“One night I said to her, “OK, pretend I’m a reporter and I’m going to ask you some questions,’” McParland recalls. “She said, “Nobody’s going to want to interview me.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, you’ll be interviewed a lot.’ So I told her to give credit to her teammates and that I didn’t want to hear the word ‘me’ in her interviews. That hasn’t been a problem at all. Kristi is very unassuming.”
Janoske, who bats fifth in the lineup and boasts a .351 batting average, will take that unassuming personality to Division II Mercyhurst College next season, where she will consider majoring in psychology or criminology, though history remains her favorite subjects.
And speaking of her favorite subject, Janoske will always remember fondly the day she threw two pitches for a little league coach.
The rest is history.