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Why a bad warm-up was a good omen for espnW player of the week Alexis Osorio

Alexis Osorio has had four no-hitters at Alabama, but she topped those on Saturday with a 21-strikeout game against Fordham. Courtesy Alabama

Not much felt right to Alexis Osorio as she warmed up in the bullpen before a start against Boston College this past Friday. Pitches spun satisfactorily enough for Alabama's All-American, but they seemed to wander wherever they wanted rather than stick to the path she intended.

That was her first clue that Friday was going to be one of those days. One of those days when nothing goes your way. A day when you wish you never got out of bed.

Not for her, mind you, but for the Boston College hitters who were soon to step in against her.

"If I have a pretty bad warm-up," Osorio said, "it usually means it's going to be a great day."

That wasn't always the case. A bad warm-up used to worry her, occasionally to the extent that the worry became a self-fulfilling prophecy. She worried it would carry over to the game. So it did. But at some point during the past few years, for reasons even she can't pinpoint, she noticed that more often than not, imperfect warm-ups preceded some of her best performances.

Maybe it is because those are the days when her pitches move best, so well that it takes time to bring them under control. Maybe it is reverse psychology. Maybe it is pure coincidence.

But she felt that way warming up Friday, then threw a no-hitter against Boston College. She was a walk and a hit batter away from a perfect game as a present for Alabama coach Patrick Murphy in his 1,000th win.

She felt that way again before a Saturday start against Fordham, then proceeded to tie an NCAA record that will be next to impossible to break by striking out 21 batters in a seven-inning game.

Just for good measure, as if she hadn't already locked up espnW national softball player of the week honors with her first two outings, she came on in relief in Sunday's weekend finale and struck out the only batter she faced on three pitches for a save in a 1-0 win against Samford.

The no-hitter was nothing new, her fourth solo no-no at Alabama. The strikeouts were something else. She couldn't recall 21 strikeouts in seven innings in travel ball, high school or any other setting.

The NCAA record for strikeouts in a game is 28, shared by Baylor's Cristin Vitek and Northwestern's Eileen Canney, but each obviously needed extra innings to get there (16 innings for Vitek and 18 innings for Canney). Until Saturday, Cal All-American and U.S. Olympian Michele Granger was the only pitcher to strike out 21 batters in a seven-inning game, and that was in 1991, some years before Osorio or any other current NCAA pitcher was born.

Only Granger. Not Monica Abbott or Cat Osterman, who each came close with 20 strikeouts in seven innings. Not Angela Tincher, who struck out 26 in 11 innings in perhaps the most dominant sustained effort.

That Osorio's share of the record comes with a slight asterisk -- Boston College got an extra out when a runner reached base on a dropped third strike -- hardly spoils the simple elegance.

A pitcher needs 21 outs in a game. And 21 times Osorio did that without any help, beyond perhaps some good framing from senior catcher Carrigan Fain. It isn't the same as a perfect game, but it is perfectly dominant.

"I try to make my best pitches to every single batter," Osorio said. "Regardless of the outcome, whether they get a hit or I strike them out, it's challenging for me to make those good pitches. But it's great. A strikeout is amazing to get every single time, but I know that almost every time it's not possible. But it's great to strike people out."

Maybe it can't happen every time, Saturday the exception, but it happens more often for her than just about anyone. Averaging better than 10 strikeouts per seven innings, the senior is the active career leader in strikeout rate among Division I pitchers. She will cede that lead when Florida junior Kelly Barnhill reaches the NCAA's minimum threshold of 400 innings pitched within the next couple of weeks, but few pitchers are able to rely on themselves the way Osorio can.

And with a tendency to work deep into counts, persevere through walks and with a steady-bordering-on-sedate pace in the circle, she sometimes needs the strikeouts.

So she has to trust herself. Even when the ball has a mind of its own mind in the bullpen beforehand.

All of which leads to one question after a week of supporting evidence for her belief in the predictive power of a bad warm-up. Does she worry when she has a good warm-up?

"Sometimes I do," Osorio said.

She was joking. Mostly. But you'll forgive opposing hitters if they don't see the humor in it.

Previous winners: Washington's Kirstyn Thomas (Feb. 14) | Duke's Katherine Huey (Feb. 21) | Arizona's Taylor McQuillin (Feb. 28) | Michigan's Faith Canfield (March 7)