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LHS' Kuhn aiming for excellence in the circle

Apr. 4—It's rare for an opposing hitter to sit on one of Paige Kuhn's six pitches.

The Laramie High senior holds a fastball, changeup, riseball, curveball, dropball and screwball in her arsenal. While none of the pitches are new to her, she views her riseball and screwball as her "out-pitches."

"My dropball is the newest pitch I have," Kuhn said. "I started working on it about two years ago. It definitely still needs some work."

Kuhn feels she has been a solid pitcher throughout her softball career. She sees her development over the years as a catalyst for her growing into one of the Plainsmen's aces this spring.

Much like any pitcher, Kuhn has developed superstitions she believes help her on a game-to-game basis. She always dusts the mound off twice and spins the ball in her hand three times before each pitch.

"(My freshman year), I realized if I wipe my foot, I throw a strike about 90% of the time," Kuhn said.

Laramie coach Luke Andrews says Kuhn's approach on the mound reflects the entire team's mentality. He also added that the movement on her pitches stands out.

"We have to make sure were not missing all around the zone," Andrews said. "We can't throw down the pipe and give other teams pitches to take advantage of. She does a good job of giving our defense a chance to make plays."

Added Kuhn: "My spin rate and ability to hit spots carries me as a pitcher. I pitch to miss barrels. I get a lot of ground balls and pop flies for my teammates to catch, and I want to do it in as few pitches as possible."

Kuhn's first start of the season didn't go as planned. The Plainsmen lost 8-0 against Cheyenne East last month, and Kuhn surrendered three earned runs on eight hits in 4 1/3 innings.

"I thought she pitched well," Andrews said. "We made a few mistakes that compounded and snowballed."

Against the Thunderbirds, Kuhn pitched to catcher Rachel Dean for the first time in her career. The Plainsmen cycle through three catchers, including Dean, Carson Milam and Emilee Sirdoreus. The Plainsmen made four defensive errors in the loss to East, leading to five unearned runs.

"Rachel has a very calm exterior, and that helps me in high-pressure situations," Kuhn said. "She tells me to take a breath and make sure that we're on the same page."

Kuhn thinks the team suffered from early season jitters during the Cheyenne Invite preseason tournament. The Plainsmen quickly bounced back with three straight wins after the loss to East.

"The East game was rough," Kuhn said. "I don't think I was as prepared as I should've been. We had people in positions they don't usually play. We were still trying to figure some stuff out, contributing to errors."

Kuhn bounced back two games later with a gem against Wheatland. She struck out six and allowed just one earned run in five innings in an 18-2 win over the Bulldogs.

"I pitched a lot better," Kuhn said. "The team chemistry was better, and it has kept getting better as games progress."

Andrews has full trust in Kuhn's ability to work batters. He allows her to work with the catcher to execute their own game plan.

"It's really what she's confident in on that day," Andrews said. "It's a collaboration between her and the catcher. We want to make sure we trust that all three of our catchers understand the game well enough to call those pitches.

"We understand that Paige is confident enough to call off pitches and get what she wants."

Kuhn said Laramie's pitchers don't get much of a heads up about when they're starting a game. Sometimes, Kuhn doesn't find out until right before first pitch that she'll be in the circle.

As a result, Kuhn keeps her mindset the same for every opponent on the schedule. Kuhn naturally dials in for opponents with better records, but she refuses to take anyone lightly.

"Even against teams you know you may beat, you've got to keep the same mentality," Kuhn said. "You've got to be locked in, no matter what."

When Kuhn isn't pitching, she is one of the team's best middle infielders. She made countless plays against Cheyenne Central to help LHS win 3-2 for the Plainsmen's first win over the Indians in three seasons, according to Andrews.

"If she wasn't a pitcher, she would be an everyday middle infielder," Andrews said. "She showed that ability in the Cheyenne tournament. She has the softball IQ to make all the right plays in the field."

Added Kuhn: "If I'm pitching, my mindset is usually just on that, and I will struggle to hit the ball. But if I am at shortstop, it gets a lot better, and I can focus more on (hitting)."

Kuhn's goal is to finish the season with an earned-run average under three. Through two starts, she has an ERA of exactly three while walking just one batter through 9 1/3 innings of work.

"Anything below a three is good for ERA," Kuhn said. "More so, I want to have a very limited number of walks. No free bases."

Laramie returns to action for a pair of road doubleheaders this weekend. The Plainsmen will take on Thunder Basin on Friday and Campbell County on Saturday in Gillette.

Austin Edmonds covers Laramie High, University of Wyoming and community athletics for WyoSports. He can be reached at aedmonds@wyosports.net. Follow him on X at @_austinedmonds.