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Friday, March 7, 2014

Rachel Pence Steps Into Justin's World

When the college softball season began, there were a lot of games to keep up with and players to watch. While I normally limit my coverage to Division 1 (for continuity and a little more convenience, if nothing else), when there's a notable happening elsewhere in college softball, I do my best to cover it, as well.


Photo cred: Amanda Stratford Photography
So when I saw that Florida Tech's freshman hurler Rachel Pence had thrown a perfect game in not only the team's season opener, but also the first-ever game of her collegiate career, I was immediately impressed. No-hitters are fairly rare. Perfect games, even more so. To see either come from a freshman is even rarer. The details of the start kept piling up and making the feat more and more impressive.

I knew I had to talk to this young lady, if at all possible. After that amazing performance, Rachel has continued to dominate as this season has gone on, assuming "workhorse" duties for the team. As of today, she sports a 9-3 win-loss record, a 1.53 earned run average, sixteen walks and sixty strikeouts, and an opponent's batting average of .219.

Luckily, I had the opportunity to talk to Rachel for a little while a couple of weeks ago, and I came away from that conversation even more impressed with her than I had been. Not only is Rachel an immensely-talented pitcher, she's an even better person and a strong representative of her Christian faith.

I had the opportunity to ask her about all of those things, including her torrid start to the season, her faith, and more. You can read the first part of the transcribed interview below. (Please forgive any typographical or grammatical errors. It's late and my accent can be hard enough to understand on a recording in the middle of the day, much less the middle of the night.)

I very much appreciate Rachel taking the time to chat with me, and thanks to FIT's Ryan Jones for helping set it up. You can follow Rachel and the Panthers' season through their Twitter and Facebook pages.


Justin's World: I want to start by asking you about that perfect game to start your season, honestly, your career. What was going through your mind inning-by-inning as you were just mowing them down?

Rachel Pence:  Inning by inning, I was so just focused on doing my job and, you know, in softball, anything can change with just one swing of the bat, it doesn't matter how many outs there are. So I was always focused on, after each inning, never letting my guard down. And continuing, going into each inning treating each batter like they were my toughest competition. I was trying to pitch my best, inning by inning, not really worried about... I was obviously trying to keep them to zero runs, but I wasn't really thinking about how many strikeouts I had or that I hadn't walked anybody or that nobody had reached base. I wasn't thinking about that; I was just thinking about each batter pounding the mitt.

JW: Even though you weren't thinking about it, were you conscious of the fact that nobody had reached even first base?

RP: To be honest, no. I think I'm more conscious of when players do reach the base, then I'm like "This player did this last time", but since no one got on base, no one hit the ball real well, I approached each batter like it was their first time again, throwing at their weaknesses. And so, to be honest, I wasn't really conscious that no one had reached base.

JW: So when you hit the fifth inning of that game, I believe it was a 10-0 lead, and you go out there, did anybody say anything to you or was the old-school "everybody stays away" because you're pitching a perfect game, was there any of that or was it just another inning?

RP: To me, it was jut another inning. I don't really know what the girls were thinking. I know a lot of people were saying "just three more outs, just three more outs" because it was the run rule. So they're like "All we need is three more outs. That's all we've got to do. Just like last inning." But no one said anything about a perfect game, no one said anything about "don't let anybody on base", no one said anything about that. And I know coach was going "I hope no one says anything" in the back of her mind. She told me after the game. But no one said anything about the perfect game before that last inning, or hits or anything.

JW: I read that you threw just fifty pitches in that game. Five innings, just fifty pitches. Even in a run-rule game, that's pretty impressive. My basic math skills tell me that's about ten pitches an inning, on average, so basically one more pitch per inning than you would need if you just threw all strikes and struck out everybody. Was that something you realized, that "Man, they're just not hitting it" or "I'm mowing them down"? Did you feel a little "less-tired" than usual? Was that something that affected you?

RP: I did realize that my pitch count was really low because the innings were really short. I didn't realize what my pitch count was exactly, but the further into the game, I was like "Man, I still feel good", and it's because my pitch count was low. It's kind of funny, because the day before that, we were supposed to have games but they got cancelled because of the rain, and the day before that we had to practice inside because of the rain so I didn't get to pitch that day, and the day before that I think we had to cut our pitching short because of the rain, and the day before that, I had an awful bullpen, so that whole week leading up to it... I had an awful bullpen and then I had a lot of rest for my shoulder going into the first game, so I think it was a mix of having those days off and having those days off, sometimes I get worried "Oh, I didn't pitch for three or four days, I don't know how I'm going to do", but it's all part of trusting the process and trusting your preparation. Even though I didn't get a chance to pitch those three or four days off, I was still doing other things and I've been pitching for how long? I have the mechanics, the muscle memory and the trust and the faith that God's still going to do what He wants with me on the softball field, and He's still going to help me pitch as well as I can pitch.


Editor's Note: There was too much great stuff in this interview to leave in one long narrative that some people might run from at the sight of the post. So check back Tuesday for the concluding Part 2 of my interview with Rachel, as we discuss faith and the rest of her season!

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