NORTH HAVEN — The reaction is virtually the same for North Haven senior Lauren Card after every batter she pitches to, whether it ends in a strikeout, a hit, which is becoming rarer with each passing game, or a run, which simply never happens anymore. A big smile crosses her face as if to say I’m having the time of my life.
She’s certainly having her best year in the circle for the Indians.
It’s been all smiles for the phenomenal Card, who at one point threw seven straight shutouts for the Indians. She’s taken her game to an even higher level in the postseason: She’s thrown a pair of perfect games, including last time out in the Class L state quarterfinals against Maloney.
“We started a thing when we were younger that I don’t want you to pitch if you’re not happy,” said Wayne Card, Lauren’s father who coached her for about five years on the travel level. “She can get real serious, but she’s having a good time out there and she enjoys it. You don’t see her not smiling as long as she’s in the circle.”
The North Haven circle is Card’s home and has been so since midway through her freshman season. Card made a name for herself with the Connecticut Eliminators team under her dad; she won MVP honors as they won a national championship at the 14U level, the first team from the state to do so.
Card’s ace in the hole is her devastating drop ball, which induces far more groundouts than strikeouts. A unique pitch as most pitchers rely on a rise ball to get strikeouts, it’s a weapon that is fully maximized because of her teammates. She has allowed very few hits with a stellar defense behind her.
“I just like being in the circle,” Card said. “I like the pressure of having control of the game. Sometimes I get a little nervous but I can keep my composure.”
It’s not the lone threat, though. Card has developed a vast array of pitches as she’d grown up with the Indians.
“My changeup has been up there and my drop has gotten me to get the ground balls,” Card said. “My curve gets me the strikeouts. Throughout the offseason I would throw every day to make sure those pitches would be here for the start of the season.
Card — who started at second base — only started pitching at age 11, partly because sister Rachel was a catcher. The two had a season together at the varsity level when Lauren was a freshman; She took the starting job down the stretch and hasn’t left the circle for North Haven since. Big games came immediately as North Haven reached the Class L semifinals in 2015.
“She was touted but you can tell she’s really worked at it,” said North Haven coach Karen Castagnola. “You can tell the kids who are motivated to do well; she’s one of those kids. She’s gotten so much better at hitting her spots and improving on multiple pitches.”
She played for the New Jersey Pride travel team as a junior; the program is one of the most competitive in the Northeast and put her on the radar of college coaches. The team — which consists of mostly Division I prospects — traveled across the country for tournaments. That led to the commitment to the University of Hartford to pitch at the next level.
Card, a high honors student at the school, helped North Haven to its first SCC championship last May, a 12-8 win over Amity after a 5-0 shutout of East Haven in the semifinals. That was followed by a surprising loss to Law in the first game of states.
“We had a plan but we lost in the first round of states and that stung,” Castagnola said. “We loved winning SCCs and I think we were a little high off that win we went in first round and bombed out. We used that as motivation.”
A key moment this year came against Cheshire, when Card threw a shutout in a 1-0 victory. The win cemented the Indians’ status as one of the best teams in the state. The weekend before the game, Card was in Massachusetts getting a pitching lesson to continue to hone her craft.
“In the Cheshire game I knew if our defense and hitting was there we could beat them,” Card said. “It really just came down to pitching and fielding; they made the two errors and we took advantage of that.”
The Indians would fall to the Rams in the SCC final, but have rebounded so far in the Class L tournament. North Haven owns a 22-3 record and will face a Masuk team which won the bracket a year ago.
Card has hit over .400 for the season at the plate as well for North Haven, a place she’s has called home her whole life. Card is joined by a host of seniors — eight of 10 starters are 12th graders — who are eager to end their careers with a Class L state championship.
She’ll likely be smiling there, too.
“That’s the thing with her, she always smiles and is always happy,” Castagnola said. “She never gets rattled; she’s as cool as a cucumber.”