Irish find their key in Micaela Kastor’s breakout freshman season
J.J. Post | Thursday, March 23, 2023
Heading into the 2023 season, Notre Dame softball had a glaring need in the pitching circle.
The Irish returned just two pitchers from their 2023 campaign — graduate student Payton Tidd and sophomore Shannon Becker. And while Tidd and Becker both enjoyed strong 2022 seasons, having two pitchers simply isn’t enough in a sport that places an emphasis on three game weekend serieses.
Notre Dame needed a breakout freshman to be an immediate contributor to the staff. They got one, and more, in freshman Micaela Kastor.
Through 25 games, Kastor hasn’t just been Notre Dame’s breakout pitcher, she’s arguably been their best one outright. She has a spotless 4-0 record and a 0.88 ERA, a mark good for second best in the ACC. 50% of her starts have been complete games. She leads the Irish in saves as well, the most notable of which came in a crucial road matchup with Duke.
Part of what has made Kastor such an asset for Notre Dame is her versatility. Head Coach Deanna Gumpf has utilized the freshman in just about every situation imaginable over the first few months of the season.
Kastor closed out the team’s season opening win over Arizona State. She started in a loss to Northwestern at the Big Ten/ACC challenge tournament. In Madeira Beach against Florida International, she served as a stretch reliever.
Kastor attributes her ability to succeed in a variety of situations to a consistency in her approach:
“My style never really changes depending on whether I’m used as a starting pitcher, a relief pitcher, closing pitcher, anything like that,” Kastor said. “I just try to maintain the same elements of confidence, going in with the same mentality. Even if I’m starting a game, I like to take the mindset that it’s the bottom of the seventh, and we’re down by one. You just have to find outs, and be confident throughout. I don’t really think my mindset changes too much, that perspective of just always wanting to dominate, and just control my batters with my confidence on the mound.”
Kastor has also has the benefit of having the perfect mentor to aid her rapid transition to college ball in veteran ace Tidd. Tidd, who’s now in her fifth season at Notre Dame, has plenty of firsthand knowledge of making an impact as a rookie. In her first season, 2018, the current graduate student made over 41 appearances for the Irish.
As someone that’s seen just about everything the ACC and college softball has to offer, Tidd has been an asset to helping Kastor develop her abilities both on and off the field:
“Coming into the season [Tidd] was initially such a huge role model and inspiration,” Kastor said. “I absolutely admire her veteran ideals… just her confidence that she’s been able to establish throughout her years here. So it’s just been a great opportunity, being able to learn underneath her. And there’s been many times that I’ve gone to her with questions regarding not only the physical aspects of the game, but also the mental aspects.”
As impressive as Kastor’s early stats have been, things will likely only get more difficult from here for the freshman. Teams have only begun to gather film on Kastor. Right now, she enjoys the benefits of hitters having never seen what she has to offer on tape. As the season progresses, opponents will begin to better scout out her pitches and tendencies.
But for Kastor, such changes won’t alter much in her approach. She remains focused on herself, not her opponent:
“My game doesn’t change knowing that other teams are going to start gathering information about me over time,” Kastor said. “At the end of the day it comes down to the other team’s ability to know those things and still have success off of our pitching staff. Knowing how we throw, and knowing our styles. I don’t think it changes any of our games… it’s still just going to what works best for us and playing our best game.”
With the brunt of the season coming into frame for Notre Dame, the Irish’s pitching depth will be tested. Notre Dame will be playing 4 plus times a week for the next month and a half. And if the Irish want to keep up their winning ways and make their first SuperRegional in program history. Kastor will almost certainly need to be playing her best game.