RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Talk to her for a little while, and it’s easy to pick out what makes Ramstein junior Jenn Morton one of the best high school softball pitchers in Europe.
Location, location, location.
“My mom and dad were always playing on base and unit teams,” the left-hander said Tuesday. “I was always at softball fields, throwing the ball around.”
The way things have gone during her high school career — she started the year 16-2 overall and picked up victory No. 17 on March 29 against Wiesbaden — she could be throwing the ball around softball fields for a long time to come. She’s certain to be there Saturday when the three-time defending European Division I champion Lakenheath Lancers come calling.
“It’s so exciting,” Morton said of the chance to play the Lancers again.
Ramstein, which has won 32 straight home games, went undefeated during the regular season last year, only to see the Lancers avenge a regular-season sweep by defeating the Royals 4-2 in the final of the 2002 tournament.
If Morton collects a victory Saturday, she’ll do it the same way she won the other 17: riding a fastball clocked last year at 55 mph and a devastating change-up.
“My change-up worked well against Wiesbaden,” Morton said. “We’ve been trying to increase the speed of my fastball this year, but we haven’t measured it yet.”
As if she hasn’t had enough success with the two pitches, she’s also adding a breaking pitch to her repertoire.
“I’ve been working on a drop ball,” she said. “I’m trying to perfect it and add accuracy to my fastball.”
The drop will loom large if Morton is to fulfill her desire to play in college, according to Ramstein coach Kent Grosshuesch.
“In college, they don’t throw the fastball anymore,” Grosshuesch said. “It’s all breaking balls.”
Aware of the fact, Morton is working diligently on her sinker.
“I went to a camp in Seattle last summer,” said Morton, who said she’d like to play at a warm-weather school but feels she’ll probably end up playing in her native state of Washington.
“It was strictly a pitching camp. It was only three days, but it was very effective.”
It needed to be, given the circumstances of playing in Europe.
“Our problem over here,” Grosshuesch said, “is that we don’t have any pitching coaches. There’s no one to teach techniques.”
No one, that is, except Morton’s father, Pete, who’s been working with his daughter to improve her game since before she took up tee-ball. His current projects are serving as a Ramstein assistant and helping refine that breaking ball.
“Dad’s a big softball buff,” said Morton, whose home is within sight of the base softball complex where the Royals practice. “He’s out here 24/7.”
So is she, according to Grosshuesch.
“Jenn’s a workhorse,” he said. “She has good control and could throw 100 innings if you wanted her to.”
Morton started out playing outfield and first base in youth baseball, but switched to fast-pitch softball in middle school, thanks to the influence of mother Cathy, who was playing fast-pitch at the time.
“I used to go out and watch her and think ‘That’s so cool,’ ” Morton said. “Then, at one of mama’s games — I think it was when I was in sixth or seventh grade — I was watching and, all of a sudden, I knew I wanted to start pitching.”
Although Morton, who began her career at Bitburg before transferring to Ramstein last year, could ride her heater and change-up to big strikeout numbers, she prefers to pitch smarter than that.
“We’re still awesome on defense,” she said. “I’m not that worried when I give up a hit because they’re so good. They’re the reason I get so many no-hitters and one-hitters.”
The Royals look ready for another shot at the European title that has eluded them for the past two seasons.
“We’ve had two bad games in the last two years,” Grosshuesch said, “and it’s cost us. In baseball, anything can happen in a single game.”
Morton and her teammates, however, believe that, this year, their time has arrived.
“We feel we’re due,” she said.