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Proof that Hannah Flippen doesn't find Pac-12 pitching all that scary

In 17 plate appearances since Monday, Utah's Hannah Flippen has made a grand total of two outs. Courtesy University of Utah

Before she ever dug her cleats into the dirt of a college batter's box, Hannah Flippen found the weak spot in an All-American pitcher's game. Her opponent was older and more experienced, to be sure, but it didn't take the young hitter long to notice that every time the ace clenched her teeth before she released the ball, a changeup followed.

"I always knew it was coming," Flippen said. "So I hit her changeup the best."

She couldn't talk too much trash, of course. It's never wise to get on your mom's bad side.

All the more because Mary Lou Flippen, who is still Utah State's all-time leader in wins, innings, strikeouts and ERA and was the ace of an Aggies team that won back-to-back AIAW national championships in 1980 and 1981, had far more than just that changeup in her repertoire.

Pac-12 pitchers, in turn, were desperate to find some tell, any sign of vulnerability, from the younger Flippen this past week. Their efforts were less successful. Beginning with the conclusion of a home series against Oregon State on Monday and continuing through a weekend road trip to Arizona, the Utah junior second baseman registered 17 plate appearances. She made just two outs.

Pitchers walked Flippen nine times, and for good reason. In eight official at-bats, she produced four home runs and a double. She drove in six runs and scored seven runs. She even stole a couple bases for good measure, once after an intentional walk, perhaps just to get even.

Given the quality opponents and the road trip to Tucson, a 2-2 record for Utah in the games was respectable, if still painful after a walk-off home run beat them in the finale against the Wildcats. What Fllipen did was far more than respectable and painful only to opponents.

Her line: .750 batting average, .882 on-base percentage and 2.375 slugging percentage.

For that, she is the first person in her family to be espnW's national player of the week.

"I guess things just kind of clicked this weekend and this past week," Flippen said. "I was seeing the ball really well, obviously. And I just kind of focused on what I was doing at the plate and not so much on what the pitcher was going to do. I focused on staying in my legs and just picking a strike to hit. Sometimes I pick balls to hit, and that's when I get myself out."

Flippen has only seen photos of her mom's collegiate prime, video evidence from those days not as easily located as it is for players like Hannah who regularly play on television. But even years later, family friends marveled at the way Mary Lou threw in recreational leagues. Mom coached daughter from the earliest days through travel ball early in high school, only then taking a step back.

But not too far back.

Even this week, with little rest between the Arizona series and scheduled midweek games (ultimately wiped out by some spring snow, ice and rain), Flippen received a text message with maternal advice. After re-watching an at-bat from the recent games that resulted in a line drive to left field with two strikes, her mom complimented Hannah on staying down on the pitch. She wanted Hannah to know it was a good piece of hitting.

Thanks, Hannah responded, but her mom didn't settle for the non-committal reply. Moms rarely do. She pressed Hannah on whether she really remembered the at-bat in question.

Yes, mom, she remembered.

Hannah's dad is also a former athlete, but it was often left to him to serve as the buffer between the pitcher and the hitter she raised (although Mary Lou hit a few home runs of her own, too).

"She gives me a different perspective, as to what she's seeing," Flippen said. "Sometimes I get really close-minded and focused on what I'm doing so I don't open up my eyes to what she's seeing."

An All-American as a freshman and all-conference pick as a sophomore, including first-team all-defensive honors in the Pac-12 in addition to her work at the plate, Flippen is an important reason why the Utes continue to adapt so well to life in such a rugged softball league.

Then again, when you grew up picking pitches off an All-American, the Pac-12 isn't so scary.