Amy Finlayson had no idea what she was getting into when she first committed to being a high school softball pitcher.
"I didn't know I had to pitch all year," said the Bel Air junior. "But once I started, I wanted to be the best. As soon as I saw the competition, it gave me a lot more drive. Going to camps and seeing how everyone did just pushed me harder."
Now, Finlayson spends as much time as possible on the diamond during the spring and summer months. In the off-season, she pitches at least twice a week after volleyball or basketball practice and often attends weekend clinics.
That commitment has paid off.
Each year, Finlayson has gotten better. As a sophomore, she added speed and started throwing a changeup. This season, she has added two more pitches and throws a little faster with even better placement.
Bel Air coach Valerie Cooper said Finlayson's strength is not just in her ability to throw hard and hit the strike zone.
"Amy knows how to use her speed," said Cooper. "She's always thinking, and that's changed the way she pitches. She doesn't try to blow everybody away any more. She knows she doesn't always have to throw 70 mph to be a good pitcher."
For Finlayson, who started playing slow-pitch softball at 9, the adjustment to fast-pitch came quickly. But the development from simply throwing the ball over the plate to pitching to the hitters came more gradually.
"You just can't go up there and throw it," said Finlayson. "You have to look at everything about the batter -- her number in the lineup, how she stands, how she swings, everything. It's not a matter of how fast you are. If you put it in the same place, people are finally going to connect with it and kill it."
This season, not many batters have connected with Finlayson's pitches. Through the first three games, she allowed just 14 hits while striking out 23. In a 6-3 win at Aberdeen on Wednesday, Finlayson struck out the first seven batters.
Pitching every inning for the Bobcats (2-1), Finlayson has compiled a 2.04 ERA.
At the plate, she is also a threat. A mild pull of her quad muscle kept her out of the order against Aberdeen, but batting cleanup in the first two games, she went 4-for-7 with a triple and a double.
Although she hasn't set specific personal goals for the season, Finlayson hopes eventually to earn a college scholarship. With a 3.31 grade-point average and her ever-improving ability, Finlayson should draw some attention. But she knows getting a scholarship won't be easy.
"There's so much competition out there it's going to be very difficult," said Finlayson. "I just have to try to get better and prepare myself for college-level competition."
Finlayson continues to go to clinics, including those run by Jack Crandell, the guru of local high school pitchers especially in Anne Arundel County, which has become the hotbed of area high school softball.
At one of Crandell's clinics, Finlayson caught the attention of Ron Nelson, coach of the Glen Burnie Outlaws under-16 team. Nelson invited the 5-foot-10 Finlayson to play for the Outlaws and she accepted.
The team plays in the North County League in the spring and then plays tournaments around the Middle Atlantic area much of the summer. One of three pitchers on the team, Finlayson will see as much action as the others, said Nelson.
"She just throws hard," said Nelson. "She has good speed and good control and it seemed like she has the ability to get better. Because she's tall, she should be able to pick up more speed."