Throw Like a Girl


By Sarah Henning

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Friday Night Lightsmeets Morgan Matson’s The Unexpected Everything in this contemporary debut where swoonworthy romance meets underdog sports story.

When softball star Liv Rodinsky throws one ill-advised punch during the most important game of the year, she loses her scholarship to her fancy private school, her boyfriend, and her teammates all in one fell swoop. With no other options, Liv is forced to transfer to the nearest public school, Northland, where she’ll have to convince its coach she deserves a spot on the softball team, all while facing both her ex and the teammates of the girl she punched… Every. Single. Day.

Enter Grey, the injured star quarterback with amazing hair and a foolproof plan: if Liv joins the football team as his temporary replacement, he’ll make sure she gets a spot on the softball team in the spring. But it will take more than just a flawless spiral for Liv to find acceptance in Northland’s halls, and behind that charismatic smile, Grey may not be so perfect after all.

With lovable characters and a charming quarterback love interest, Throw Like a Girl will have readers swooning from the very first page.


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Bottom of the ninth. Bases loaded. Two out.

The crowd breathless at the batter’s back. The players in the dugout on their feet. The opposing pitcher staring daggers from the mound with steam pouring from flared nostrils.

At the plate: the team’s star, bat pointed toward the wall, challenge clear.

In real life—in softball—it doesn’t exactly work out that way.

It’s close.

But not as if penned by a writer’s hand.

It’s the bottom of the seventh—there aren’t nine innings in high school softball. But the bases are loaded. And there are two out.

The crowd is breathless, the players in the dugout are on their feet, and the opposing pitcher has got the raging-bull thing going on from the mound.

But the team’s star isn’t at the plate.

She’s on it.

Wilted in the dirt after taking a sixty-mile-per-hour fastball to the back. Motionless. Eyes stunned open. All senses on pause, a rolling clap of pain drowning out everything else.

As the crowd holds its collective breath, I search for mine. My lungs don’t seem to be working, and the catcher and umpire both loom over me, outlines blurry with the same fuzzy energy as a 3-D movie left to the naked eye.

I blink a few times. First at the lights. Then at the catcher and ump. And, finally, at the upside-down EAGLES name scrawled across my chest, willing my rib cage to nudge my lungs into action.

Up. Down. Up. Down. In. Out. In. Out.

The sound comes flooding in as my chest finally rises. The shouts of my teammates, the sweet girls of Windsor Prep, will me up. My coach’s voice—my sister’s voice—above them all.

“Stand, Liv! Stand!”

I make it to my feet, back hot and lungs still warming up.

Brows pulled together, I shoot my game-day glare at the mound. Kelly Cleary’s red hair clashes horribly with her stupid orange-and-white uniform; her cat-eye liquid liner is so thick it hides the fact that she has actual eyes. And they must not be able to see worth a crap, because she just hit a batter with the bases loaded and one down.

Which means that if I can walk over to first base, everyone advances and we score a run to tie it. Not exactly the walk-off grand slam of my dreams, but it’s one way to move out of this round and into the Kansas state championship game.

Or at least get one run from doing that.

Again, another true-life technicality.

Both sides of the crowd are clapping, because that’s just what you do when someone gets hit by a pitch. My parents, brother, and Heather are on their feet. My teammates are a rowdy block of purple, crowding the dugout rail, ribbons and ponytails kissing their cheeks in the breeze, clapping me to first.

“Nice job, O-Rod!” There’s my best friend, Addie, cheering even though she’s about to bat.

My sister, Danielle, has her arms crossed over the EAGLES scrawled on her chest, the wedding ring Heather gave her two years ago glinting in the stadium lights. She does her stern-coach nod. It’s a look I first saw at age three, when she was twelve and egging me on as I threw her the ball for the millionth time. She was a hell of a player, but she’s always—always—been a coach.

On the other end of the stadium, I spy my boyfriend, Jake. Dreads to his shoulders, he’s dressed out in his orange football jersey, number thirty-two, clapping along with a few teammates in Northland’s section of the crowd. Wearing their jerseys out of season to big games is a tradition, or so he says. But while he looks the part of a good, supportive student-athlete from the rival school, I know that even though we’ve only been dating since the Spring Prep Preview photo shoot at the Kansas City Star in February, he’s totally here for me.

Below the Northland section is its dugout where the Tigers’ veteran coach, Trudi Kitterage, observes from the steps. Coach Kitt looks like the burnt-bacon version of a head cheerleader—all hard curves and tan lines. But her talent is real. And her team is good. Too good for Kelly’s mistake. Meaning, if I sawed Kelly in half with my own glare, Coach Kitt’s stare is roasting the pieces of her in a bonfire of why-the-hell-did-you-do-that.

Because in ten of my shuffling steps, we’ll be tied.

Eight more steps. Six. Four. Two.

And then I’m on the bag at first, squeezing in next to Stacey Sanderson. Who, up until a minute ago, was my least favorite player on the Northland team.

She can hit. She can run. And she’s Jake’s gorgeous ex-girlfriend.

From, like, two years ago. Or something. Whatever. I’m not sure—but there’s a history there. And she’s been reminding me of it the whole game. Giving me side-mouthed sass every time I’ve gotten on base. Which, let’s be honest, has been a lot.

This time, I strike first. Shaking my head as I clap home our third-base runner, Rosemary, for the tying score. “One away, Sanderson. All because your girl Cleary can’t hit the broad side of a barn.”

The corners of Stacey’s mouth quirk up but her eyes stay at home, where Addie is settling into her mega-erect stance. The girl can dunk and hit the three, but she’s a praying mantis in cleats. “I’d say she hit the broad side of something, all right.”

I snort and roll my eyes. “Jake loves my curves.”

“Jake also runs headfirst into a pack of bodies for three months a year. Brain cells aren’t his forte, Rodinsky.”

“Whatever, Skeletor.”

Addie dusts Kelly’s curveball, but it falls straight into the catcher’s mitt. Strike one.

Come on, McAndry. Just a base hit. No extra innings. Just a straight seven-inning pass to the championship.

Stacey sniffs. “I have a lot of admirers of my ass, thankyouverymuch.”

I don’t even miss a beat. “They’re just trying to figure out how you sit comfortably on something so flat.”

Addie squares her shoulders and waits for another pitch, looking very badass. Kelly is taking forfreakingever, and I so want to inch off the base and away from Stacey’s fish lips—too bad it’s not allowed. But then Cleary actually does something right and rips a strong fastball. I lead off base, sure Addie will connect, but McAndry hesitates—strike. Shit. I dive back in just as the catcher whips the ball to first. I hit the dirt just in time, fingertips grazing the base before Stacey gets the tag.

Called safe, I stand, not bothering to wipe off the dust streaking across my chest and the Eagles logo.

“Nice skunk streaks, Rodinsky.”

Whatever. I keep watching Addie, willing her to mow down whatever-the-hell pitch Cleary comes out with next.

“I think they highlight my assets much better than my uniform on its own,” I shoot back.

“I’m not so sure about that”—here comes the pitch, fast and straight, and square in the batter’s box—“better ask your sister.”

Addie’s bat rockets forward and connects, sending the ball straight into the gap between second and third, dropping short of the outfielder at left.

My body knows it’s supposed to run—it’s been trained to run at the crack of the bat for the past thirteen years—but my mind is reeling. Did she just imply what I think she implied?

Stunned, I stutter-step, weighed down by her voice in my ears. Somehow, I move forward enough to make it to second, giving Addie room at first so Christy can score the walk-off run. But my brain is back at first. Where Stacey is standing, punching her free hand into her glove, pissed that Northland’s state run is now officially over. She’s a senior, so it’s really the end of her road. We’ve won and she’s ended her high school career with a loss.

I should smile. Collapse in relief. Cheer about going to the championship game. But I can’t—not until I respond. I have to. I can’t just let her say something like that and then go home like it didn’t happen.

Sanderson is moping at first, so I jog back down the first-to-second line. My teammates are all celebrating at home base with Christy, but there’s no way I can go straight there. I drop in next to Stacey, now walking in the direction of her dugout.

“What did you say?” My voice is clipped.

She doesn’t even look in my direction. “Nothing.”

“No, I think you did. And I think you meant something very specific.”

Stacey’s eyes roll my way. They’re a muddy shade of brown, made worse by the fact that her eyebrows are on the endangered species list. “Doesn’t it bother you? Your sister being paid to check out your teammates?”

“Excuse me?”

She purses her lips and says, slowly, “You heard me. Your sister. Is paid. To check out. Your teammates.”

The knuckles of my right hand smack her straight across the ski jump of her obnoxiously pert nose, and we tumble to the infield dirt. I have her pinned, my butt across her kidneys, knees on either side of her squirming stomach.

“Don’t talk about my sister like that!”

At the taste of infield, she bucks wildly and we both land on our sides. She scrambles on top of me but I get her hard across the nose again. She yelps, blood leaking onto her lips.

“You owe me a new nose!”

Her right hand goes back, fingers pulled into a fist. I see a heavy caking of dirt across her knuckles before she misses my nose and lands a blow square to my right eye.

Tears immediately begin to pool at my lash line. We’re upended again, and I’m on top of her long enough to score one more open palm to her cheekbone before I’m finally yanked away by at least two teammates. Maybe three or four.

I vaguely hear Addie’s voice. “Be cool, O-Rod! Cool! Liv. OLIVE.”

It seems to come almost from the inside of my head rather than outside, where the crowd has gone for a collective gasp.

Her words and hands carry me—I’m tall, but Addie’s taller and stronger, using all her leverage to pull me away. More hands come. More voices, too. Above the din, I hear Danielle, her coach voice turned up to eleven. “Hey, hey, hey! Stop! Stop!

Three of Stacey’s teammates have a hold on her—two at her shoulders, Kelly Cleary at her waist. The girl’s still swinging, though, blood dripping down her chin and onto the stylized Tigers logo scrawled across her boobs.

Coach Kitt strolls over and calmly fills Sanderson’s line of sight just as I’m wrenched in the opposite direction of Stacey and right into the arms of Danielle, who can’t quit it with the “Hey, stop!

She hooks one of her arms around my shoulders and hauls me toward the dugout. The move effectively turns both our backs on the celebration happening at home plate, delayed initially when everyone stopped to watch us fight. On Danielle’s word, the assistant coaches run out to get our team set to shake hands with Northland. My good eye tries to look up at her, but all I see is her lips quiver.

When she speaks, it’s at a disappointed whisper—one I hear over the crowd, over my teammates hesitantly going back to celebrating our state championship berth, over the pounding of my heart that’s doing a drum solo for my ears.

“Olive Rodinsky, how could you.”


DANIELLE YANKS ME INTO THE STADIUM’S FAMILY RESTROOM and slams the door so hard that it bounces back open. But she doesn’t even care. Doesn’t even close it, because even though I don’t know who will address me—sister Danielle or Coach Rodinsky-Simpson—that person is pissed.

To my horror, a tear slides out of her right eye. I have never, ever in my life seen my sister cry—even on her wedding day to Heather; even when Mom was diagnosed with cancer—and suddenly I’m so scared I think I might pass out.

“Olive Marie Rodinsky,” she starts, my full name a weapon as her voice rises an octave, that tear rolling down her suntanned face. “You are supposed to be a leader. Not just a star. Not just the coach’s sister. A leader. And the crock of crap you pulled out there? That’s not leading. That’s minor-league rat shit. That’s stuff drunk suburban dads pull when the rec league trash talk spanks a nerve. That’s not something a girl with a résumé like yours does. You think the college scouts out there didn’t notice that? They’re here to see you!” The volume of her voice drops, and it’s somehow even worse. “And that is not something a Rodinsky pulls. Not now. Not ever.”

Another tear escapes, bringing a whole new level of terrifying to the hard line of her glower. Her index finger whips out and jabs me hard enough in the sternum that my breath hitches.

“You disappointed your teammates, made a fool of yourself, and hurt another human being.”

The words are right there on my lips. About what this supposed human said and why I slugged her. But they stay stuck in my windpipe, blocked by the fear that repeating Stacey’s words would make things worse.

“I’m your coach. Everything my team does is a reflection on me. Everything you do is a reflection on me. You shame yourself, you shame me.”

Throat closing and skin burning, I struggle to maintain eye contact. Not just because I’m even more embarrassed now than when I was hauled out of the game, but because I can feel my own tears coming.

“And you shame Windsor Prep.” We whirl around to a deep voice at the door we failed to shut, and Principal Meyer is standing there in all black like the grim reaper himself.

“Up until today, you’ve been a wonderful addition to Windsor Prep, young lady—a straight-A student and a natural leader. But tonight, you embarrassed not only yourself and your sister, but me and your school.”

Again, the words are right there, ramming the barrier of my clenched teeth, begging to get out. What that bitch said. Why I hit her. That I was standing up for my sister and against hate.

But it all sounds so stupid right now. Letting something like that get to me. When I know better. When ignoring her ignorance would have been the best thing to do.

I sound like a loser with no control.

Which is exactly what I must have looked like out there with my fist cocked back the instant before it connected with Stacey’s nose.

“Coach Rodinsky-Simpson, would you leave me alone with Miss Rodinsky?”

Miss Rodinsky. Just hours ago, at the assembly to see us off to this game, Principal Meyer shook my hand and called me Liv. As if what was going on here weren’t already blaringly obvious, those two little words confirm it.

I really want Danielle to stay. As a family member, not my coach, but I know that’s not going to happen. I’m in deep shit with her, too, and when she doesn’t protest, I know it’s more than her being a good employee to the man who runs the school where she’s not just a coach but also an English teacher—she knows her presence will soften whatever is coming next. And if anyone subscribes to the tough-love approach, it’s my older sister. Which, ironically, is why I love her so much.

“I’ll be right outside,” Danielle says as she steps out of the room, leaving the door ajar. I’m left alone under the sodium lights with the head of our school.

I’ve seen this movie before. I know what he’s going to say. I know it, but I still don’t believe it.

I’m the best in my grade.

I’m the star athlete.

I’m the anointed queen of next year’s junior class.

But none of that matters right now.

All that matters is that I go to a private school, broke its private rules, and now I’m about to be privately kicked out on my ass.

“Miss Rodinsky, though I do believe what happened tonight to be out of line with the exemplary character you’ve demonstrated over the past two years at Windsor Prep,” he says, pausing, and my heart drops fifty feet before he begins speaking again, “that does not change the zero tolerance policy for violence to which we adhere.”

Zero tolerance. Words I haven’t had directed toward me in my entire rule-abiding life.

Principal Meyer pauses again, and his weary eyes are on my face, willing me to return in kind. He’s not going to move on with my fate without looking me in the eye. I wish I were cowardly enough to look down forever so it won’t happen, but instead, my eyes flash up to meet his.

“In accordance with our policy, I’m sorry to say that you are suspended for the rest of the school year.”

I blink at him.

Suspended. Not expelled. Just out. For the rest of the school year—only three days, for the remainder of finals.

I’m not sure if that suspension will keep me from the state championship tomorrow night, but still, my hopeful heart rises back up to its rightful place and my gut reaction is to smile in relief. But he draws in a deep breath and I realize he’s not done. I wait for it, nails digging hard into my clenched palms, even though I have no idea what else there could be to say. He’s already said the worst thing.

Or so I think.

“Suspension aside, there is also the matter of your scholarship—”

My heart drops all the way through the bathroom tile to freaking China. I think I’m literally shriveling up to die as my mind races through what this means.

I am at Windsor Prep on scholarship—one deemed “academic,” but everyone knows it should be described as “athletic,” if only that weren’t technically illegal.

There’s no way in hell my parents could afford the $15,000 yearly tuition without it. My dad’s a detective and my mom had to quit her job last year when her cancer came back. We even put our house on the market with plans to move in with Danielle and Heather because we can’t pay for both our mortgage and Mom’s mastectomy that’s happening next week to save her from her own boobs, even with insurance.

I swallow.

I haven’t so much as blinked at my scholarship documents since I signed them in eighth grade, continuing the very short tradition Danielle started of Rodinsky women leaving public school behind for Windsor Prep.

I have no idea what it says other than that my parents don’t have to pay a dime for me to walk the expensively adorned halls I all but own.

“Under the terms of your scholarship, suspension voids the contract.”

Stars float in front of my eyes. Principal Meyer’s pruney face hovers, framed by their light, floating in the abyss. My educational abyss, apparently.

Owned. The halls I all but owned.

“This means if you would like to return to Windsor Prep next year, you will have to do so as a nonscholarship student.”


SOMEHOW I FIGURED THAT IF I WERE TO HIT THE BOTTOM of my own personal barrel at sixteen, it would’ve been in the dead of a Kansas winter. Snow blowing, skies as gray as my mood, maybe a patch of black ice at the ready to land me on my ass physically as well as metaphorically.

Instead, it’s 98 degrees outside in August and approximately 410 degrees in my stomach as it stutters and flips under the withering stare of Coach Kitt.

We’re in her office at Northland—my new school.

Aka the place housing my now-ex-boyfriend (Jake, who broke up with me a hot minute after I punched his ex) and about fifteen hundred kids I don’t know because I grew up across town before we moved in with my sister. My time in public school—elementary or middle—wasn’t with a single person at Northland.

All this, plus the woman holding my softball dreams in the palm of her manicured hand, because of course my parents couldn’t pay for me to stay at Windsor Prep.

In fact, even if they could have, they wouldn’t have, because they were so pissed at me for getting in a fight. In front of everybody. Over something that they think had to have been stupid mean-girl stuff.

I still haven’t told anyone what Stacey said, and I probably never will. The point is that I lost control. Even though I was in the right, how I handled it was so, so wrong.

And now, because I’m the luckiest girl in the world, my sister’s house sits just inside the boundary for Northland. Two blocks over and I’d be enrolling as a junior at Central. They have a horrible softball team there, but at least I’d get to be a star. Here, I may not even get to play.

Not if Coach Kitt’s face is any indication.

She actually hasn’t said anything to me yet, and it’s been five minutes since I walked into her office this afternoon—with less than a week to go before my first day of school. And so I glance at the personal photos over her toned shoulder—snapshots that include a husband and what looks to be a boy in a Northland letter jacket.

When I can’t take the silence anymore, I start to talk again, even though I’ve already said varying versions of: I’m sorry. I apologize. I want to be on your team this year. I can add value. I can be a good teammate. I promise I won’t send another Tiger to see a plastic surgeon.

What I don’t say and won’t say: I need to be on your team to make sure I get a college scholarship.

I clear my throat. “Coach, if you need a reference, I’d be happy to put you in touch with my club coach, or Chad with the Junior Olympic te—”

Coach Kitt holds up a hand. “Olive, I believe you’re not only genuine in your remorse but that you’re a genuinely talented player. My team would benefit from having you.”

I take what feels like my first breath since I stepped into her office.

Junior year is crucial for a would-be college softball player. Senior year is a wash—all the scholarships have already been awarded and accepted before seniors even step on the field. Meaning that even with the attention I’ve already gotten, I can’t fade away or my future will, too. And just like a Windsor Prep education, college isn’t possible without a scholarship.

“Now, though you have impressive talents and are possibly the best third baseman I’ve personally seen play in Kansas City—”

“Thank you.”

She doesn’t even acknowledge the fact that I spoke. “—a successful team is made up of more than just talented players. A successful team is a careful balance of talent, drive, personality, and unity.”

I nod because I know all of this. If a team doesn’t mesh well, it can suffer, no matter how good the players are.

“And, honestly, at this juncture, my opinion is that you’re not a good fit for my team.”


“That opinion may change by tryouts in February. But that’s not a guarantee. I have to do what’s best for my team. We were third place at state last season.” This is a fact I know well, because we placed second, losing in the title game, with my suspended ass riding the bench.

“And I only lost one senior,” she continues. One senior—Stacey. Gone to Arizona State. Good freaking riddance. “The group of girls we have this year is a terrific balance of talent and teamwork, and I want to nurture that, not upset it.”

I swallow again. “And you think I might upset it.”


“What can I do to—”

“To make me think otherwise?” She says it with a perfectly arched brow, red lips pursed at the question mark.

I nod.

“Show me you can be a teammate.”

I’m not sure how I can demonstrate to her my stellar teammate chops without a team to be on.

To my surprise, Coach Kitt picks up on my confusion and helps me out. “Are you going out for any fall sports?”

I blink at her. In my world, there is no other sport to play but softball. My little brother, Ryan, plays soccer, but I never did. For girls, it’s a spring sport, anyway, so it doesn’t matter. In fall, the options are slim—cross-country, volleyball, golf—and I’m not really cut out for any of them. Maybe cross-country. Maybe. I can run and I’m fast, but it’s basically a group of individuals competing together. Not exactly the best showcase for teamwork.

Coach is waiting for me to answer, patience wearing so thin I think she regrets throwing me a bone at all.

“Cross-country?” I suggest weakly.

I know she sees the same holes I do. And I hope she realizes why that’s my answer—that there is nothing more Olive Rodinsky would like to do than play softball. Even cross-country would be a means to an end, a way to stay in shape for the main event in the spring.

“Consider it,” she says. “And maybe a winter sport, too. Basketball, not swimming, if you have a choice.”

I nod. I better start shooting hoops with Ryan the second I get home. The kid’s got a nice jumper and I hope to God my little brother has learned a thing or two about coaching from Danielle.

There’s shuffling outside Coach Kitt’s door, cleats on linoleum. Her eyes fly up, and I know it’s time for me to leave. I’m dismissed. Students she actually believes in are waiting for her.


I WANT TO RUN AWAY FROM THIS PLACE, TO RUN BACK to Danielle’s house, fall into bed, and fold into the fetal position with my sorrows. But I can’t go anywhere. No, I have to be a good sister to Ryan.


  • Praise for Throw Like a Girl:
    "Liv's major obstacle is learning to forgive and trust again: the family who doesn't respect her decisions; the teammates who keep secrets; the boyfriend with an agenda; and above all, her own flawed, complicated, driven, triumphant self. This charming sports story reflects classic tropes of the genre while still feeling fresh and relevant. A winner."—Kirkus Reviews

  • "Henning offers a fun romance twined with a fast-paced sports story, and a headstrong protagonist who is easy to champion. Liv's relationship with Grey is the perfect mix of heat and heart, and her acceptance by the all-male football team, refreshingly easy... [A] feel-good underdog story about a girl who refuses to quit."—Publishers Weekly

  • "Determination and grit mixed perfectly with sass and humor on every turn of the page. With mistakes come lessons, and this story tells it in a way that everyone can relate to."—Abbi Glines, #1 New York Times bestselling author

  • "[Sarah] Henning offers up a scrappy contemporary debut in the vein of Morgan Matson. Sports fans and romance lovers unite--there's plenty to satisfy both teams here."—Booklist

On Sale
Jan 7, 2020
Page Count
368 pages

Sarah Henning

About the Author

Sarah Henning is a former sports journalist who has worked for The Palm Beach Post, Kansas City Star, and Associated Press, among others. When not writing, she runs ultramarathons, hits the playground with her two kids, and hangs out with her husband. Sarah lives in Lawrence, Kansas, hometown of Langston Hughes, William S. Burroughs, and a really good basketball team. She is the author of Sea WitchThe Princess Will Save You, and Throw Like a Girl, and invites you to visit her online at

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