In charge inside the circle

From her vantage point at shortstop, Flintridge Prep softball player Kelly Wang can see the frustration of opposing batters when they vacate the batter's box and then walk back to the dugout after striking out against Denise van der Goot.

Wang knows from her past experiences, having faced van der Goot numerous times during practice. While Wang hasn't had much success hitting van der Goot, the same can be said for opponents.

"It's just so hard to hit against her, so I understand how the other teams feel," Wang said.

Van der Goot has been a pillar in the circle for Flintridge Prep throughout the regular season and through during the first round of the CIF Southern Section Division VI playoffs. Flintridge Prep (14-4) will look for van der Goot to continue piling up strikeouts when it faces host Rim of the World (22-5) in a second-round contest at 3:15 p.m. today.

With each pitch tossed, the batter tries to solve van der Goot. It certainly hasn't been easy.

Through Thursday, van der Goot is 11-1 with a 1.03 earned-run average. In 15 appearances, she's struck out 178.

The senior, who will attend Brown University, helped lead the Rebels to a share of the Prep League championship for the first time since 1995. Van der Goot turned in arguably her best performance of the campaign in the final game of the regular season against visiting Westridge on May 12.

Van der Goot, a right-hander, struck out 13 and faced the minimum 21 batters after hitting the first batter of the game. The batter was then caught attempting to steal second and van der Goot then set down Westridge the rest of the way to give Flintridge Prep a share of the league title with Mayfield.

"I had never thrown a no-hitter before, so that was a good time to do it," van der Goot said. "I was very happy getting it and it's one of the best games I've ever pitched.

"I've been able to strike out a lot of batters and I don't like when somebody gets on base. To do it in helping the team win league made it that much more special."

On Thursday during a first-round game against visiting Santa Paula, van der Goot and the Rebels persevered. She struck out 16 and scattered two hits in going the distance and Rachel Simon drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning to help Flintridge Prep pick up a 2-1 victory.

Flintridge Prep Coach Julie Jaime marveled at van der Goot's performance.

"Santa Paula has got a quality team and Denise came in and did a great job against their batters," Jaime said. "Her velocity didn't change too much.

"She's got a lot of confidence out there. It's her job to pitch and she's got a lot of confidence. She's not cocky, but she thrives on challenges."

Van der Goot said she was aware that Santa Paula had slugged its way to a 19-6 wild-card victory against Alverno on May 17. Her mission was to quiet Santa Paula's bats.

"I don't really focus too much on what a team does in its previous game," said van der Goot, a reigning All-Area second-team selection, who struck out 146 batters last season and helped the Rebels qualify for the playoffs. "I knew they could hit, so I had to work my curve balls and rise balls.

"I gave up that one run, but I quickly put it behind me. I tried that much harder because I didn't want them to score another run."

Santa Paula didn't cross home plate after the fourth inning and Flintridge Prep kept its season alive.

Van der Goot said she was able to keep her composure while facing Santa Paula.

"In the playoffs, you know that batters are going to be good," van der Goot said. "I went out there and tried to work the spots where the batters were having difficulty," van der Goot said. "You have to make adjustments at times, but the goal is to still go out there and try to strike them out."

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