At 18-4, SMWC Softball Eyes Return Title Run
Head coach Mark Feller has his Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) Pomeroys’ softball team at 18-4 after 22 games. For the small college just outside Terra Haute, Indiana, a stellar softball record is a rite of spring. SMWC is the two-time defending USCAA national champion and has earned the honor ten times in total.
“This year is going well. We’re blessed to have a very rich softball tradition at St. Mary’s,” said Feller.
One reason is SWMC’s location in Indiana’s talent-laden Wabash Valley.
“It’s a hotbed for softball, and it’s easy to recruit local talent,” said Feller. “The big thing is there are a lot of good travel softball teams in Central Indiana. I think that’s where you have to give a lot of the credit.”
Sarah Burnham, the USCAA Player of the Year in both 2015 and 2016 before graduating last spring, is a Wabash Valley product.
SWMC’s facilities also give them a leg up on the competition. The school’s athletic amenities include an auxiliary gym and workout facility that allows the Pomeroys to spend extended time working indoors – a necessary commodity during a Midwestern winter.
“It’s nice to have the indoor facility. We do a lot of hitting in the winter time, and we do a lot of throwing,” said Feller. “We try to simulate some infield, and try to do a little bit of outfield work with crow hops, drop steps and whatnot. We make the best use of our time and let our girls know it’s going to be a long, monotonous process.”
It’s a process that works and quickly loses its monotony as the Pomeroys heat up during the outdoor season in their annual march to the playoffs.
Prior to the postseason, SWMC doesn't typically see a lot of USCAA opponents. This year they caught an early glimpse of three – Carlow University (Penn.), Penn State Hazelton, and Iowa Wesleyan – on a Florida road trip last month. They went 6-0 in the process.
Feller features a three-person rotation on the mound but resists labeling his pitchers as the team’s 1,2, and 3 starters. “I like to just list my pitchers as pitchers. They all work hard.”
This year sophomore Taylor Andrew (7-2), junior Stephanie Richardson (6-1) and junior Christian Chambers (5-1) comprise SWMC’s rotation.
A hallmark of the Pomeroys’ 2017 staff is their ability to locate pitches. The source of that talent is no mystery – hard work.
“I think it goes back to winter when we’re inside. Pitchers and catchers have extra work to do – going through their routine, working their pitches, working their wrist snap, and hitting their location.”
Leading them in their training is a Hall of Famer. Mike Andrew, the Pomeroys’ assistant coach, is a member of the Indiana and Indianapolis chapters of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) Hall of Fame.
“He’s been all over the world playing men’s fast pitch softball, so I think his experience with our pitching staff has paid huge dividends the last two years,” said Feller. Andrew is the father of current Pomeroy pitcher, Taylor.
Offensively, “We lost a little home run power by losing Sarah Burnham last year,” said Feller. “But this year is my fourth with St. Mary’s and this team is probably the most dangerous team from top to bottom.”
Through 22 games, senior and two-time All-American Emma Riffe (pictured) leads the team with a .517 average and has driven in 23 runs. She’s also crossed the plate 26 times.
“We’ve got nice power, and I think we just put a lot of pressure on the defense,” said Feller. “That’s all we want to do – put pressure on the defense and let the pieces fall where they may.”
To that end, the Pomeroys have stolen 49 bases while being caught just seven times. Sophomore Hollie Jones leads the team with 23 thefts and has yet to be thrown out in 2017.
All the pieces point to another deep playoff run for the Pomeroys this season. Feller, befitting a two-time national champion familiar with the difficulty of the task, makes no predictions, but instead modestly acknowledges the success of the program he inherited.
“The tradition was there long before I got here and we’ve been fortunate enough to keep it rolling.”
*Article by Tom Flynn
*Photo credits to St. Mary of the Woods College Athletics