Hackley Softball Ace Enjoys Playing Mind Games with Opponents

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by Tom Pedulla – 

Mind games.

Ace righthander Dana Van Buren loves to play them as she aims to lead Hackley’s softball team back to the Ivy League Championship game and win the title that proved elusive last year.

To Van Buren, pitching is more about out-thinking the opponent than anything else. The batter’s stance lets her know that a certain pitch in a specific location might be particularly effective. And that delivery might set the stage for another offering with a different speed and location.

“I really like the mental aspect to it, not just the physical,” she said. “I really like the strategy behind it, observing the batter and what would be ideal to throw.

“I think I’ve definitely gotten better at that over the years. I particularly like when they’re expecting something and I do the opposite. They’ll watch for a changeup and I throw a fastball.”

The difference in velocity between the two pitches is significant, leading to some feeble swings. She possesses excellent command, allowing her to almost invariably hit whatever target catcher Abbey Schiller provides. And she generates tremendous velocity from her windmill motion.

The combination can be lethal.

The 5-8, 153-pound Van Buren compiled an 11-5 record with a 2.03 ERA last year as a junior with 188 strikeouts and 13 walks in 103 innings. She also was a force offensively, batting .431 and knocking in 13 runs.

“She brings such energy and spirit to the team. The kids all look up to her,” said Diane Campbell, her coach. “She’s a player. She comes to play all the time. She tries to figure out how to get that win. She’s always trying to make herself better.”

Van Buren has been pitching since the second grade. She was introduced to the sport by her parents, Eva and Jim. Her father has been an asset over time with his ability to catch her whenever she wanted to do some additional throwing.

Her increased velocity in recent years required him to purchase shin guards and a face mask, but he hangs in there. Her fastball possesses so much zip that Schiller slips a layer of foam between her palm and her glove.

“Even when I have padding in my glove,” the sophomore catcher said, “it always leaves a sting because it’s pretty fast.”

With Van Buren’s physical maturity came an increased focus that makes her hard to rattle, no matter how challenging the circumstances might be.

“I think I’m really good at handling stress,” Van Buren said. “I don’t crumble under pressure.”

That was hardly the case when Van Buren joined Hackley’s varsity as an eighth grader.

“It’s not even the same kid,” Campbell said, adding, “It’s very rare that I have to walk out to the mound to calm her down. In the beginning, yes. Not now.”

Van Buren earned 42 wins for Hackley from 2013-2018. She and her teammates are driven by the one that got away. They were engaged in a tight game with perennial Ivy League power Poly Prep in the finale before one miscue led to another in an eventual lopsided defeat.

Hackley’s team is fully invested in playing for the championship again.

“It’s our last chance together and what we’ve been working toward,” Van Buren said. “I’m very excited. I think we can do some damage.”

Whatever happens, Van Buren is winding down her softball career. She plans to explore her interest in criminology when she enrolls at the University of Miami. Perhaps she will one day read criminal minds as well as she did batters.

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