Cotter High School softball coach Pat Bowlin has been doing this a long time.
The Hall of Fame coach has over 700 wins in 27 seasons including two state titles, but even he hasn’t seen a season like the one Ramblers’ ace Isabel Northop is putting together. After allowing one unearned run in seven innings to help the Ramblers defeat Byron 3-1 on Wednesday, Northrop was sporting a 9-1 record and has allowed just two runs (one earned) all season.
Yes, you read that right.
In 10 games and 55 innings, Northrop has allowed just one earned run to go along with 98 strikeouts. That’s a 0.13 ERA.
“No question, no question,” Bowlin said when asked if this was one of the best, if not the best season he has ever witnessed. “She’s definitely one of the best pitchers I have ever coached without a question. She’s very similar to her sister Hannah who won a state championship for us in 2006. They remind us a lot of each other.”
Hannah Callahan was the ace of the Ramblers when Cotter captured their second state title in 2006, when Isabel was 4 years old.
Callahan was unhittable during her time in a Cotter uniform and was best known for her 2006 postseason performance where she went 9-0 with 99 strikeouts with just one earned run in 61 innings, highlighted by a 14-inning, complete-game shutout to send Cotter to the state championship game. Needless to say, Northrop had the opportunity to learn from one of the best.
“She actually was the one that got me into pitching when I was younger,” Northrop said. “She has helped me with some drills that could help with my leg drive, help with my arm circle motion, just pitching in general. She got me into it, got me used to it, and I just went from there. My pitching is really based off of her.”
Northrop was off to a great start last season as well, but then an inside pitch ran too far in during an at-bat in Mankato breaking one of her metacarpal bones in her non-throwing hand ended her season prematurely. Understandably, it was a tough time for her.
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“When I broke my hand it was really tough on me, especially since I love the game and I love to play softball,” Northrop said. “Our team camaraderie was really good last year, and I love to be out there with them. When I broke my hand it was a really tough experience.”
Northrop turned that disappointment into a motivated offseason.
She worked hard with former Valdosta State and Winona State ace pitcher Hanna Lythberg, who finished her career etching her name in the top 10 or top 5 in nearly every pitching statistical category in the Winona State record books. Lythberg helped Northrop develop her drop ball that has become a difference maker for Northrop this season.
“She really helped me critique my drop ball, the spin and everything that needs to go into it,” Northrop said. “After that I really wanted to make it one of the pitches that I use to strike people out with. I really worked at it and I guess I got the hang of it.”
Northrop is being modest, her drop ball has been virtually unhittable this season. It’s nearly impossible to guess when it is coming, as she can throw it in any count.
“Her drop ball is almost unhittable,” Bowlin said. “Her low-inside corner pitch is lethal as well. That drop ball is really moving at the end there is a lot of late drop to it. I don’t know if anyone has squared up that pitch all year, to be quite honest. It’s almost a strike every time.”
“She’s always had it, but she has definitely taken it to another level this year. It’s the best she has ever thrown it. It’s really an incredible pitch.”
Northrop, however, isn’t just a one-trick pony. She is just as lethal at the plate than in the circle. Thanks to a 3-for-3 effort on Wednesday, she leads the Ramblers with a .543 batting average and in doubles (six) while second with 16 RBI.
“The terrific thing about Isabel is that not only is she a terrific pitcher, but she is our best hitter,” Bowlin said. “Isabel is a very accomplished hitter as well. That’s special.”
Northrop and the Ramblers have run right through their competition so far this season, outscoring the opposition 138-10. Yet, they will be tested this weekend when they participate in the Mankato Invitational which features No. 7 ranked Mankato East and perennial powers such as Prior Lake and St. Peter. But this weekend should prove to be a good warmup for section playoffs which start next week.
“The nice thing is that Isabel is going to face some real good competition,” Bowlin said. “But I think next week she is going to be really sharp because of the good hitters she will be facing this week.”