Close to home – Ridge pitcher chooses Thunderbirds

Softball player Emma Tuson was flattered when U.S. colleges came calling. She was on the verge of becoming a pitcher ...

Softball player Emma Tuson was flattered when U.S. colleges came calling. She was on the verge of becoming a pitcher playing out a scholarship in the prestigious NCAA. Schools in Phoenix and Hawaii were interested.

But unlike most of the elite scholar-athletes in the province, Tuson is putting education ahead of sports. She chose the UBC Thunderbirds.

“I wanted to stay close to home, and I like Vancouver,” said Tuson. “My education is really important to me, to set me on a path to a good career.”

She has a 3.8 GPA (about one B for every three As) at Thomas Haney secondary, and wants to get a business degree. Then it will be off to law school. The Sauder School of Business at UBC is one of the top-ranked programs in the country, so that’s the main attraction.

Tuson would probably earn similar letter grades as a pitcher. Her favourite pitch is her A-plus curveball, but she also has a moving fastball, complimented by a deceptive changeup that leaves hapless hitters reaching and flailing.

Last year she started playing with the Burnaby Oakeys, and the pitching coaches taught her some new tricks – a rise ball, and a screwball. The latter is like a rise ball, but with some additional break.

Playing in an elite program, against tough U.S. competition, she could see her game go to a new level.

“It started to click.”

In the Acers tournament in Seattle, she was thrown in against the tough Northwest Sidewinders team, tossing five innings without giving up a run.

“I was nervous to go against them, but I held my own.”

Later she shut out the tough Delta girls – another fearsome opponent for her – over a complete game.

Tuson has gotten the feel for pitching. She knows when her pitches are making hitters look silly, and more importantly, she knows when her control of a pitch has abandoned her.

“Sometimes you can go a month with a pitch working really well for you, and then all of the sudden it won’t work,” she said.

That’s where good pitching coaches and a spot-on analysis of pitching mechanics come in. She’s looking forward to that at UBC.

“I’ve heard great things about Gord,” she said.

UBC softball head coach Gord Collings has seen Tuson play numerous times, and likes her spins.

“She has a lot of movement on the ball,” he said. “When they do hit her, it’s not a solid hit. It’s either a ground ball or a fly ball that’s playable.”

Tuson might be able to play her way into a starting role, but her new coach also relishes the idea of bringing her offspeed “junk” into a game out of the bullpen, to mess with the timing of opposing hitters who have been trying to catch up with hard throwers.

“I’m pleased she chose to come here, and I’m looking forward to having her on board.”

Tuson is expecting a big jump from her present U-18 competition with the White Rock Renegades up to NAIA competition. She will face women who were the cream of the crop among high schoolers, and some of them four years farther along in their development.

“Coach Gord told me ‘You’re going to get hit next year.’” she said. “But I think I’ll do well. I’m confident in myself.”

Her father Anthony is particularly stoked that his daughter will be playing close to home.

“For sure I am – to be able to watch her pitch in university… I’m all over it.”

There is a cloud hanging over the program at UBC. The university conducted a controversial review of its 29 varsity sports, and softball was one of five sports relegated to club status. The team will get one more year in the NAIA, and then be reviewed at the end of next season.

Tuson is hoping for the best.

“I’m really hoping they pass that review, and continue to play varsity.”