Q&A: Softball's Jenna Rich

Stanford softball, which finished the regular season 38-17 and 11-13 in Pac-12 play, faces Baylor in an NCAA Regional matchup this Friday at 1:30 p.m. PST. The game will be played on a neutral field in Lafayette, La. Junior Jenna Rich, who has had a career year protecting Ashley Hansen in the lineup, was gracious enough to write back to a few questions from The Bootleg.

David Lombardi, The Bootleg: Your power numbers have been consistently excellent every year during your Stanford career. This year, though, your average has shot up to .370. You've also cut your strikeouts roughly in half. What specific adjustments led to these contact improvements?

Jenna Rich: This year I've mainly been focusing on having more discipline at the plate. In years past, I've been too anxious at times and perhaps tried to do too much, but this year I wanted to stick to my plan and not throw away at-bats. Trusting my mechanics has also been the key to being more successful. Whether it's during a slump or after one bad at-bat, I am more patient with myself and remember to trust what my body already knows. I think this year I have learned to coach myself more during at-bats and have incorporated more positive self-talk.

TB: Ashley Hansen put up an all-time kind of year in 2011. This season, she has been walked 30 times in front of you. Has the fact that teams have worked around her motivated you to make them pay at the plate?

JR: The fact that teams pitch around Ashley Hansen so often to get to me definitely lights a fire under me. It has motivated me to make them regret their decision or make them pay for assuming I would be an easier out. Although it has put a lot more pressure on me to perform, I have embraced these opportunities to show them they made a mistake.

TB: Coach Rittman is known around the softball world for his hitting instruction. What is his biggest point of emphasis with your swing?

JR: Right now, Coach Rittman has been putting a great deal of emphasis on using my lower half. Sometimes I get in trouble when I don't keep my weight in my back leg and tend to slide my hips forward. As long as I am consistent with this adjustment, I am a more dangerous hitter.

TB: How has playing in the brutal Pac-12 prepared your team for upcoming postseason play? Even though you were swept by No. 1 Cal, did your team learn any specifically from that series?

JR: The Pac-12 is by no means an easy conference, but our team has only grown stronger from all the adversity we have had to go through this season. We embrace the challenge it brings and look at it as a way to prepare us for postseason. The teams we will see in postseason are not going to back down. I'm quite confident that playing in one of the best, if not the best conference has allowed us to handle the ups and downs and learn how to bounce back from tough losses. We have certainly learned what it takes to beat top teams. Losing to Cal earlier this season was a hard lesson to learn, but from then on out, I think our team realized that we needed to play with more confidence. Seeing Cal swing their bats was kind of an eye-opener for us, so I think what we took away from that series in particular was that we needed to swing our bats with some authority but also play solid defense. This year we have been a constant offensive threat, but holding the other teams on defense started to become more of our focus. That just takes mental toughness, hard work, and the determination to shut down our opponents.

TB: Many of our readers are huge baseball fanatics. Can you explain to them how difficult it is to hit a ball that actually rises in the game of softball (since that is something that doesn't happen in baseball)?

JR: The rise ball might be my worst enemy. I admit that I am a sucker for the rise ball. As a hitter, it looks like a watermelon. It is so incredibly tempting and by the time you realize you shouldn't swing, it's too late. By far one of the trickiest pitches I have had to learn to lay off. The rise ball adds another plane that a batter must worry about. Instead of just in, out, and low, there is also a high pitch. It is especially difficult to recognize when pitchers throw hard. Since my favorite pitches to hit are high and inside, it has been painfully challenging to teach myself to lay off the high ones. Nonetheless, it is very possible to learn how to either hit them or lay off of them, as long as one is patient.

TB: - What is your major? What has been your favorite class at Stanford?

JR:I am majoring in Science, Technology and Society. My favorite class so far has been vertebrate biology.

About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link. For Stanford baseball insights, follow David on Twitter at davidmlombardi.

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