By Miguel A. Melendez, Staff Writer
With every excuse to hit crusise control, La Canada High School’s Lauren Cox instead stepped on the gas pedal and went to work.
It was around this time last year when the senior pitcher re-aggravated an injury that kept her out for much of the season. It was devastating that she couldn’t build on the stellar numbers produced as a sophomore: a 5-1 record and six saves in 24 appearances with a 0.35 ERA and 161 strikeouts in 81 innings.During her run up to her junior season, Cox tore muscles in her hip flexor and suffered a strain in her right leg. She sat out half the season before coming back in mid April and pitched two innings of relief against Monrovia. Shegot the nod to start in the Spartans’ next game,against Hart in the Thousand Oaks tournament.
In her first start all season, Cox in the second inning with two outs took a line drive to the shin, theforce so strong the ball bounced back to catcher Catherine Horner who had enough time to make a play. The swelling began immediately and Cox was pulled, never to see action in the circle the rest of the season. She went from pitching nearly 100 innings as a sophomore to just 3 2/3 innings as a junior.
Cox was down, but far from being out.
“I knew the offseason would be important and I knew how hard I worked would make or break my season,” she said.
So putting in some serious work was the only option Cox allowed herself to have.
“She didn’t let her disappointment get in the way of being there for her teammates,” La Canada coach KC Mathews said. “She was at practice every single day, going through extensive physical rehab day after day trying to do everything she could to get back on the field.”
And Cox did.
She’s 15-3 this season in 20 appearances and 132 innings. She boasts a 0.73 ERA with 219 strikeouts that puts her in the top 10 among strikeout leaders in the state. Cox is coming off a one-hitter with no walks and 10 strikeouts in a 9-0 victory over Temple City on Monday. She was perfect through six innings. She’ll lead La Canada (18-4-1, 7-1-1) on Wednesday at Temple City again and come home Thursday and face another top 10-state strikeout leader in San Marino’s Michelle Floyd.
It’s this kind of competition — a chance to wrap up another league crown and defend their division championship — that Cox relishes most. It’s why she spent three days a week at rehab and focusing on even the little things like stretching. She wanted to strengthen her body, particularly her legs, and she did so through weights and cardio.
But there’s more to Cox that makes her the ideal teammate, and her mere presence did just that.
“She continued to support her teammates,” Mathews said. “In particular Lauren O’Leary, which is remarkable at that age.”
O’Leary shouldered the responsibility at the circle last year with Cox unavailable, and in turn O’Leary’snumbers jumped in spectacular fashion: a 25-2 record, 16 shutouts, 237 strikeouts and a 0.39 ERA. She went the distance in a three-hitter against Beaumont in the CIF title game.
Cox celebrated the CIF title win, but true to her competitive nature, she wanted to feel like she contributed much more that 3 2/3 innings.
“I was so happy and proud of my team going through that run but definitely really, really hard having gone through the season feeling like I hadn’t contributed to anything,” Cox said.
But if champions are made in the offseason, then Cox is just that, a champion. She earned every bit of that CIF ring by turning a season riddled with injuries into a dominating comeback, and the Spartans are glad to be reaping the benefits.
“The feeling that she wasn’t able to help her team on the field, that was frustration on her,” Mathews said. “But she showed toughness. It’s not easy to sit out a whole season, work your way back to playing and then shoulder the number of innings this season. It just goes to show how hard she worked in the offseason, like doing the extra work and going to the gym after practice.”
It’s a testament to her character, and surely the University of San Diego will enjoy when she begins pitching there next fall.
“I didn’t want to sit around and make excuses for myself because I hate when people do that,” Cox said. “I wanted to play. I needed to play.”
And the game needs more players like her.