As a freshman and sophomore, Haley Schulman toiled as a pitcher on the junior varsity team in the Burroughs High softball program.
Last season as a junior, she got a call-up to the varsity squad, a team that already featured an ace in junior Heather Haynes. During her sophomore season, Haynes carried the load in the circle for the Indians on her way to earning All-CIF Southern Section, All-Pacifc League and All-Area accolades, while helping Burroughs capture its first league championship in 28 years.
Schulman split time with Haynes a year ago, putting up respectable pitching numbers while also showing her prowess as an accomplished hitter.
With Haynes and Schulman both set to enter their senior campaigns with the Indians this season, an inevitable showdown loomed as to who would be Burroughs' No. 1 hurler. But that showdown never took place. Haynes decided to forego her senior season, leaving the starting pitching duties square on Schulman's shoulders.
However, according to Burroughs Coach Doug Nicol, Schulman earned the starting job even before Haynes decided not to play this season.
"We knew at the end of last year and after we played a lot of travel ball during the offseason that Haley was going to be our No. 1 no matter what," said Nicol, whose team was co-league champion in 2011. "We planned on her getting 70-75% of the starts for us. But she earned that role. She didn't get that role because of someone else not playing, she earned that with her performance last year and her performance in fall ball and winter ball."
Schulman said she was surprised when she first learned about Haynes' decision, but welcomed the opportunity to be the team's ace.
"I was disappointed when I first found out that she wasn't going to play because I really like her," Schulman said. "She was fun to be around and she's was a really good player. When she left I kind of got my opportunity and I'm just trying to do the best job that I can."
Schulman has taken the opportunity and run with it. She has been a steadying force in the circle and she has taken up where she left off at the plate last season. Her efforts have helped Burroughs (10-1, 2-0 in league) to one of its best starts in program history.
A power pitcher who can also mix in her share of junk — with a fastball, change-up, rise-ball and curve among her arsenal — Schulman has a 8-1 record and a 1.60 earned-run average and 56 strikeouts. At the plate as the Indians' clean-up hitter; she is batting .471 with 16 hits, five doubles and nine RBI.
Knowing her team relies on her a great deal not only as a pitcher but as a clutch hitter, Schulman said she does feel the pressure to come through.
"I feel the pressure, but I like the pressure," she said. "I like challenges and seeing what I can do."
She showed off her talents Wednesday in Burroughs' Pacific League opener against Crescenta Valley. Along with getting the win and striking out 10 in the process, she also went three for four with two doubles, a run scored and three RBI.
Schulman broke onto the varsity scene after starring for the junior varsity team for two years. She made an instant impact last season, hitting 471 (33 for 70) with seven doubles, 20 RBI and 20 runs scored and was 7-5 with a 1.46 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 54 innings.
Burroughs senior catcher Shannon Trujillo is not surprised that Schulman has been able to thrive on the varsity level the last two seasons.
"I think all of her success is well-deserved," said Trujillo, an all-league first-team player who is batting .429 for the Indians. "She spent her time on JV for two years when she was good enough to be on varsity. So, she's really earned being the full-time pitcher and she's been able to excel for us."
Nicol, who took over the Burroughs program last season, wasted little time promoting Schulman to varsity.
"The first week or two I saw her pitch I fell in love with her," Nicol said. "Just the command she had on the mound and the way she approached the game impressed me. She has continued to put in the time, she's worked hard and she's become better because of that hard work."
With a talented group around her, Schulman is confident the Indians will be able to sustain the success they've enjoyed during the early portion of the season. In addition, she said she is determined to do everything in her power to help Burroughs win a third straight league crown.
"It's really important to us to win it this year, especially for us seniors," she said. "We really want to win it for the third time in row. That is something that we've been focusing on."