Throughout her years as a youth and high school softball pitcher, when Janet Anne Purtell gazed from the mound to home plate, she usually saw a familiar face adorned in a catcher’s mask—her friend Chloe Dyne.
For the opposing batter, a lot of times, it was one, two, three strikes, you’re out; yet Purtell, who struck out a record number of batters for the Malibu High Sharks softball team during her junior season, doesn’t heap a ton of praise on her pitching arm for firing balls past batters.
She said Dyne, the Sharks’ catcher, is key.
“There is nothing like a pitcher-catcher relationship,” Purtell said. “If one of you is not doing it right, you—both of you—aren’t doing it well. You have to get in sync with each other.”
The 17-year-olds might have been in sync with one another since the early seasons of their tandem. Purtell and Dyne began playing softball together in elementary school. A fair share of batters had whiffed on balls thrown by Purtell as they ended up in Dyne’s glove over the years. The 12th graders had left a number of batters hitless in their wake this spring and were aiming to strike out a more when the novel coronavirus pandemic ensnarled the globe and ground the sports world to a stop in March. Just like that, years of spending time on the diamond together ended.
Dyne said it’s hard to believe her senior campaign closed the way it did.
“Softball has been a constant factor in our lives for years,” she said. “Not having the chance to say a proper goodbye is heartbreaking and devastating. I’m going to miss my teammates, especially those I played with most of my life.”
Dyne called Purtell a sister.
“Pitcher-catcher is something that requires a lot of trust,” she said. “To be able to know your pitcher that long gives us both a sense of trust on and off the field. It’s been a pleasure and honor to play with her.”
Purtell said any pain caused by the season’s shuttering was dulled because the end was so abrupt. However, the realization that she would never play with her Malibu teammates again, particularly Dyne, soon set in. Purtell called Dyne her rock.
“She is one of the most important people in my life,” Purtell said. “We work so well together. She is the steadiest person on the team.”
Purtell and Dyne began playing softball together as fourth graders after Russ Purtell, Janet Ann’s dad, invited Dyne on the Little League team he was coaching. The younger Purtell was one of the squad’s pitchers and soon Dyne was a catcher. The two played together on youth teams for several springs (except one year before high school because there wasn’t a squad for girls their age). They resumed their pitcher-catcher relationship their freshman year of high school.
Although the Sharks’ win-loss record may not prove it during their high school years, Purtell and Dyne weren’t a swing and a miss.
Purtell set a school record with 94 strikeouts last season. She ended her junior season with a three-year total of 197 career strikeouts, another record, and had 61 more strikeouts in the eight games the Sharks played this year before coronavirus epidemic struck.
Purtell’s father, also Malibu’s pitching coach, said Dyne was his daughter’s catcher for all but a few of those strikeouts. He said Janet Anne’s strikeout production dipped when Dyne wasn’t the catcher.
“Chloe’s familiarity with Janet Anne’s pitches and her framing technique have been crucial to their success,” Russ Purtell said.
The coach said the two would work on various pitches including a change-up, curve curveball, drop-curve, fastball, screwball, and rise ball.
“This takes quite a bit of time,” he added.
Dyne described her and Purtell’s relationship as symbiotic.
“When she is struggling to throw a strike, I can tell when she needs a time out to just take a deep breath and reset,” Dyne said. “We don’t have to use a lot of words.”
Purtell said Dyne always positioned her glove in the right place to give her a target to aim for to pitch a strike.
“We work together to get a batter out,” she said. “When the third batter is out, she stands up and smiles at me. I smile at her, and we go back into the dugout.”
On offense, coach Purtell said his daughter and Dyne had career batting averages of .390, third in Malibu history.
“They are some of the best hitters the school has ever seen,” he said.
Dyne said although the 2019 season was statistically her best hitting season, she felt that 2020 was trending better.
“I was in a better place and I was super excited to play softball,” she said.
Both players hoped their play, coupled with their teammates’ performances, would push Malibu to a winning record. The Sharks had a roster full of experienced players including seniors Amy Jimenez, Lexi Thomas, Tiare O’Herlihy and Rachel Oronoz; juniors Karis Hughes and Emma Sudmann; and sophomores Alana Gutierrez, Tess O’Neill, and Julia Carroll.
Malibu had a 3-4-1 record when the season’s final 11 games were canceled. The group had two victories over Bishop Diego, one by a score of 12-2 and another 6-5. Malibu beat Channel Islands, 14-11, in the second game of a doubleheader. The squad’s losses were to Archer School for Girls, Channel Islands, Santa Paula and Viewpoint. The bunch tied Winward.
Purtell said the Sharks weren’t perfect but were improving.
“We were ready to go, and we had a really good team dynamic,” she said.
Dyne said Malibu could have made the CIF playoffs.
“We had all the potential,” she said.