SPRINGFIELD TWP. — A year ago, Olivia Bey didn't get a single varsity inning in the circle.
On Wednesday, the Field junior pitched seven innings in the Falcons' biggest game of the season to this point.
The stage — Field's revenge game against Springfield after the Spartans topped the Falcons earlier this year — was massive.
Field needed a win Wednesday to maintain control of its destiny as it seeks a fourth straight league title.
The challenge in front of Bey was no less clear.
The Spartans boast a loaded lineup. In fact, Springfield scored 10 runs in a loss to Coventry a day prior and seven against Ellet a day later. The Spartans also scored 16 runs the first time they faced the Falcons.
All Bey did was limit Springfield to three runs en route to a complete-game victory.
"Just doing what I'm told, doing what I'm asked," Bey said. "[I] put out what I can, do the best I can for my coaches, for my teammates. That's what I think about."
After the Spartans sent seven batters to the plate in each of the first two innings, Bey limited the home team to four or fewer in four of the last five innings.
After Springfield forced the Field junior to throw 58 pitches over the first two innings, Bey never tossed more than 17 in any of the last five.
And putting up five zeroes in a row against one of the area's most dangerous lineups was a staggering achievement in its own right.
"What I saw was I saw her pitch," Falcons coach Beth Dyer said. "I saw her pitch and get into her groove and pitch with confidence instead of, just a little bit earlier, maybe throwing and aiming the ball. She just looked more confident out there."
Olivia Bey's journey to a Springfield showdown
How did Bey work her way to the circle after spending her sophomore season on the junior varsity?
Well, for one, Bey worked.
"Last year [is] over," Bey said. "This year, new year. This team, that's all I think about and doing better."
Bey flat-out worked.
"She really has deserved an opportunity and she has stepped up every time that we've needed her," Dyer said. "Both [assistant] coach [Bob Bauer] and I are really happy for and proud of her, and she's worked herself in and has done a great job."
Bey worked and the fruits of that hard work quickly became apparent this season as she joined a talented rotation that features sophomore standouts Maddie Burge, Olivia Dyer and Kailyn Gressman, who combined to throw every inning for the Falcons last season.
Sure, shutting out Woodridge was impressive, but the veteran Field coach was equally impressed with the way Bey competed against Stow-Munroe Falls, even if the final score (10-2 Bulldogs) wasn't easy to look at.
"She has been doing a great job pitching for us," Dyer said. "She threw well [last] Friday when we beat Louisville. I felt really she deserved an opportunity today."
Though Bey is in just her first year of pitching for the varsity, she quickly garnered experience against the likes of the Bulldogs and Leopards, which may well explain why she wasn't intimidated by the Spartans.
Even after three of Springfield's first four batters recorded hits against her, Bey was able to rebound to limit the damage to two runs in the first inning.
When the Spartans loaded the bases in the bottom of the second, Bey perfectly placed a 2-2 pitch on the ankles to get an inning-ending strikeout.
"She got stronger as the game went on," Dyer said. "That's probably the biggest stage that she's been on yet for us, so I would say maybe the first couple innings [were] nerves a little bit and just she needed to settle down. But she got stronger and she really came through for us in those later innings."
Although Bey struck out just four hitters, she continually coerced harmless pop-ups and grounders with her fastball.
"Honestly, it was just [throwing] faster," Bey said. "It wasn't really spin that was making the pop-ups [happen]. They were hitting, they were making contact with every spin, so putting the fastball high is what I feel like popped them up."
After inducing one last pop-up to clinch a 7-3 victory, Bey stood as a testament to an approach that has helped the Falcons win title after title over the years — namely, that every year is different and there is always the opportunity to earn one's chance at greatness.
Like Bey did Wednesday.
"We kind of preach to the kids, and we did in the beginning of the year, this is a new year," Dyer said. "Nobody cares what we did last year. If anything, you have to work harder."
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Junior pitcher Olivia Bey comes up clutch for Field softball