MANATEE -- In arguably the best performance from an opposing pitcher this season, Hillsborough Community College sophomore Laura Downs looked untouchable in Tuesday's Suncoast Conference doubleheader at State College of Florida.
She was so good in the first game, an 4-0 victory, that the right-hander was given the ball again in the nightcap of Little League Night at SCF.
And Downs continued her torrid form, thanks to what she said she saw early in her battle against the Manatees (27-11 overall, 2-2 conference).
"From the first couple innings, I can kind of tell what pitches they are looking for and what they are swinging at," Downs said. "So if I can throw it just a little bit out of the zone, with what they are looking for, then I can get them to swing. That's what I did, and it worked."
Using the knowledge that she could throw pitches off the plate and get the aggressive SCF hitters to flail, worked in the back-to-back shutouts.
Over 14 innings, Downs tallied 18 strikeouts against two walks, a hit batsmen and just three hits.
The Hawks won the second game 5-0 to complete the sweep.
"It's the worst feeling, because number one you are at home and number two you were 2-0 coming into (Tuesday)," SCF head coach Meredith Headings said. "And when you are pound for pound a better team, it hurts."
Downs' repertoire, which included a riseball, screwball and slider, baffled the Manatees to produce her first shutout this season and first back-to-back shutouts in her college career.
But another secret to Downs' scorching numbers was how she delivered those pitches to each batter. They danced all over the strike zone.
Downs wasn't predictable to any SCF batter, which made the cold and windy evening last that much longer for the Manatees.
"I mixed it up a lot," Downs said. "I didn't keep throwing them the same pitches in the same spot. I always tell myself to do little things right, and that's what I did."
Meanwhile, HCC's bats provided enough offense to get the job done.
Amber Jones launched a home run in Game 1, while Amber Hay delivered the long ball in Game 2 for the Hawks, which improved to 5-1 in Suncoast Conference action.
But Downs was the story for HCC, and she ended the second game in a familiar view for the SCF faithful -- with a strikeout.
"We had horrible pitch selection," Headings said. "And we aren't using the keys that our coaches are telling us all night long, swinging at balls above your hands. ... She's an excellent pitcher. But we can't let good ones go by and then be subject to swing at her junk."