Sophomore pitcher takes 20-2-1 record into today's Elite 8 game
By DAVID MITCHELL
Columbus softball player Mary Catherine Smith has two personalities.
Off the field, there is the sophomore student, who is lighthearted, likes to joke around and might even be a little quiet.
On the field, there couldn't be a starker contrast.
As a pitcher for the Lady Blue Devils, who begin play in the GHSA Class AAAA state tournament today (4:15 p.m., Field 3) against West Laurens at the South Commons softball complex, she is serious, competitive and composed.
It's the latter personality that has helped her to a 20-2-1 record and Columbus to a 30-4-1 record.
"She's real fun to be around. She cuts up," Columbus coach Chad Mathis said. "But I'd say she's a teddy bear in the classroom and a tiger on the field. That's the kind of player you want."
Smith began playing softball when she was 5 years old. A few years later, in sixth grade, she attended her first University of Alabama softball game, where she decided that she wanted to be a Division-I pitcher.
Since then, she has put plenty of focus on improving into a dominant pitcher, attending team practices and games basically every day of the week as well as private lessons with her pitching coach, Jill Carlson, a couple times a week.
The result has been a high level of success as just a sophomore this season. Smith said even she has been surprised by how well things have gone.
"I didn't (expect it)," she said. "But I'm really blessed to be able to come out here and pitch as well as I've been pitching."
It's impressive for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that she has been successful in such a high-pressure position.
Being the pitcher on a softball team comes with the inherent responsibility of leading teammates throughout a game. The pitcher's success and attitude often determine those of the rest of the team.
That's why Mathis has been so impressed with her composure throughout the season.
"She doesn't lose her composure," he said. "She's a competitor. She's done everything we've asked her to do this year. There have been times where, if I was her, I'd
probably come into the dugout and get onto everybody when we aren't getting any runs. But she's done a good job of staying focused and doing her job."
Teammates have taken notice, as well. Fellow pitcher/utility player Alexis Jones, a senior, praised Smith's ability to lead the team.
"When you're pitching, you have to be a leader," she said.
"She makes her pitches, and it's our job to make the plays. I just think she has a great attitude, overall."
Amazingly, she still has two seasons left at Columbus, a fact that sometimes amazes her.
"It's crazy," she said, simply.
And despite her success already, she and her coaches know that she can continue to improve.
She wants to do a better job of getting ahead of hitters.
"I don't want to fall behind and go into too many deep counts," she said. "I need to make sure I'm making my pitches early."
Mathis says he'd like to see her improve her changeup.
"She's a finesse pitcher," he said. "She's not going to overpower you, but she does a good job moving up and down, in and out of the zone. I'd maybe like to see her work on her change and be able to throw that more consistently. If you can locate your pitches and change speeds, it doesn't always matter how hard you throw."
And Jones said it's simply about refining what she already does well.
"She does a good job of hitting corners and limiting her walks," she said. "Now, it's just about refining things."
Whatever the case, a lockdown pitcher at this point of the season isn't just nice to have, it's necessary. And the team knows that her success in the circle will largely determine the success it has in the tournament.
It's a role Smith relishes.
"I just have to stay composed," she said. "I just have to keep working."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571