The numbers are a good place to start. Gaito ended her season with a 0.96 earned run average while pitching for the University of California at San Diego. The Tritons play in NCAA Division II as a member of the California Collegiate Athletic Association.
How good is 0.96? It’s third in the nation. Of the 300 pitchers that the NCAA tracked who pitched more than 100 innings this season in Division II, only two pitchers recorded lower numbers. For those of you into that kind of metric, it means that she is in the 100th percentile. She is among the creme de la creme. A pitcher nonpareil.
This season, she finished with an 18-10 win-loss record and her team was ranked 10th among all colleges competing in the Western Region.
The thing is, Camille Gaito is only a sophomore. When you’re already at the top, what more is there to strive for? Well, there are some individual honors that have eluded her and there are plenty of team accomplishments that will have to wait for next season.
When it comes to individual accolades, Gaito’s cup runneth over. This season she was given honorable mention on Daktronics Division II All-American team. She was named to Daktronics All-West Region first team and to the second team All-West Region as chosen by Louisville Slugger/NFCA. Earlier, she was named co-pitcher of the year and a member of the first team of the CCAA.
All that sounds like more than enough to earn her a salute. But her journey is as amazing as her earned run average.
Gaito comes to her pitching prowess somewhat naturally — her father was a pitcher for Bucknell. Just as the Fords have passed down the management principles of running an automobile manufacturing company through the generations and the Barrymores have passed down thespian techniques, so Bill Gaito has shared pitching tips with Camille.
Outsiders might think this gives her an easy road to success. But as usual in real life, that kind of facile thinking misses the mark by a mile.
Camille spent seven years playing in the Marin Girls Softball organization. She entered San Rafael High School ready to make an immediate impact on their softball fortunes. But shin splints sidelined her early in her freshman year and kept her out of action during her sophomore year.
Shin splints are particularly debilitating for pitchers, who need two strong legs in the course of delivering the ball. The back foot, on the pitchers’ rubber, is used to push off, generating power for the delivery. The front foot is the plant foot, necessary for the proper follow through as the pitch is released. A pitcher who can’t push off properly and/or plant properly might as well put the ball on a tee and let the batter rip.
Having lost her first two high school seasons, no one could have found fault if Camille decided that playing flute in the school orchestra or singing in the glee club was a less painful way of participating in extracurricular activities. Many students would have chosen some variation of that course.
But the competitive fires burned too brightly, so entering her junior year, Camille had her father tape her legs before each game to allow her to pitch. It was a game decision, but it wasn’t met with a great deal of success.
The San Rafael Bulldogs got off to a terrible start in the Marin County Athletic League, losing a dozen games while winning only a couple. Gaito attempted to single-handedly bail out her team, trying to strike out every batter she faced. In one game she did exactly that, striking out 19 in six innings of work. But her team lost.
As the season progressed, the team rallied and became a late season force. One result was that Gaito earned first team all-MCAL honors.
In her senior year, the team and Gaito continued to grow and Camille was recognized as pitcher of the year in the MCAL.
With her physical problems behind her, Gaito went off to the University of California at San Diego, only to suffer a broken tibia that kept her out for the early part of her freshman season.
Upon her return, the Tritons took off, but with a record barely above .500, it looked like their only chance to gain an NCAA Division II tournament berth was to win the CCAA championship tournament. They lost their opener to Cal State Monterey Bay, but worked their way through the losers’ bracket. With Gaito pitching every game, they eliminated Humboldt State 8-0 and dispatched Sonoma State 3-2, setting up a rematch in the championship game with Monterey Bay. Bad weather postponed the game and Monterey Bay was declared the champion, giving them the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
The NCAA selection committee noted the Tritons’ march through the tournament and rewarded them with an at-large berth.
The first game was against Hawaii Pacific, who started fast, scoring runs in the first and third inning. In the third, after scoring one run, they had runners on second and third with only one out, but Gaito whiffed the next two batters to keep her team in the game. The Tritons got a single run in the fifth inning, but that was all they could muster, losing 2-1.
In a quirk of scheduling. the loss set the Tritons up to play Monterey Bay again. In what could be considered the championship game of the CCAA, the Tritons struck in the first inning on a two-run homer by Jenni Habib. Gaito made the runs stand up with clutch pitching. Gaito surrendered 11 hits in seven innings, but allowed only a single run to earn the 2-1 win.
Hawaii Pacific was waiting again. This game was as close the first one, but the Tritons lost 4-3.
For her tournament efforts, Gaito earned a second team honor on the Daktronics 2009 West Region team.
Then came this year. Camille showed what she could do with two good legs and a full season, posting that 0.96 earned run average.
How are these as predictors of success: shin splints so severe she loses half her high school seasons and a broken leg that derails part of her freshman college season?
There were the summer seasons where Camille showed the prowess that culminated in this season. She was a member of the AftershocK, a team of Marin, Vallejo, Napa and Petaluma girls, that competed in the National 14U tournament in Midland, TX. The team came in 17th out of 110 competitors.
Subsequently, she was a member of the AftershocK 16U team that competed in the National 16U tournament in Sioux Falls, SD. The team again came in 17th.
To the uninitiated 17th doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment. However, these tournaments are not open to just any old team that wants to enter. You have to earn the right to play in the Nationals. So when you earn that right, you’ve already established that you’re better than several hundred other teams in your age group. And to take the next step of moving through the tournament to 17th place leaves another seven dozen teams behind and puts the team in some mighty select company.
Perhaps Gaito’s crowning achievement in summer softball came in a loss at the 2009 Gold Nationals in Oklahoma City. The Sorceror team from Northern California faced off with national powerhouse Corona Angels from Southern California. Gaito pitched against Hillary Bach, who is now hurling for Arizona State, the 2008 NCAA champions. The game was a scoreless pitching duel until 1:30 a.m. when Corona managed to push home a run.
Giving up less than a run a game for an entire season? Persevering through physical problems? Sports Dashboards definitely salutes you, Camille Gaito.
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