Hitter's Worst Nightmare

Shelly Madick terrorized batters in 2007 and is set to do it again in her senior season

“No pitcher ever won a game by herself,” preaches Shelly Madick, the captain of the Harvard softball team.

Maybe not, but no team ever won a league championship without a star pitcher. For the Crimson, Madick’s dominant and timely pitching unquestionably makes her that star.

Need proof?

Let’s go back to last year’s Ivy Championship Series, a best-of-three date with Penn. Naturally, Madick got the nod in game one. She didn’t just get the ‘W,’ she pitched a complete-game no-hitter with seven strikeouts and a single walk—the only blemish on an otherwise perfect stat sheet.

The next day, with Harvard clinging to a 4-2 lead in the fifth inning, Madick again walked into the circle. The Penn players knew the rest would be just a formality, as Madick tossed the last seven outs to win the series.

“When we need a key performance, [Madick] is going to step up and do that,” Allard says.

Madick, on the other hand, asserts that dominating hitters is not her aim.

“I don’t ever feel that pressure to keep the ball in the catcher’s glove,” Madick says. “My goal is to let [the batters] put the ball in play in a way that my defense can handle.”

That last bit, about relying on her team, underscores what makes Madick a great captain in addition to an excellent pitcher.

The individual accolades—Ivy Pitcher of the Year, first-team All-Ivy, ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District first team, All-Northeast Region second team, and most recently one of 30 candidates for the Lowe’s senior CLASS Award—are not what matter most to Madick.

Working with her teammates, developing as a unit, winning—those are things that count to Madick.

“I don’t feel any pressure to win, I just want to win,” Madick says.

If Harvard is going to defend its Ivy title, Madick will have to show her teammates the way with both her leadership abilities and her pitching prowess.

“It is up to [the seniors] to keep going…keep us focused and motivated, and keep our eye on the ultimate goal,” Madick says.

“She’s got to do it on the field,” Allard says of her team leader. “Shelly’s the type of captain that, as we’re heading into Cornell to open Ivies, she’s going to go in there and be a bulldog and fight.”

It is not all about spirit and tenacity, though. Ability matters, too. To stay fresh, Madick spent time in the off-season working with Allard—a former college pitcher at Michigan—to develop a deeper arsenal.

“She lived a lot on her curve last year and teams are going to be looking for that,” Allard says. “We’ve done a few new things—I won’t let the cat out of the bag—but she’s got some really good things to move the ball around the plate more.”

Another positive thing that Allard is hoping to have is depth in the pitching rotation. In the early part of the 2008 season, Harvard has been pitching by committee. After Madick—the clear top starter—things are a little blurry. While deep in terms of number, there are some question marks in the pitching staff.

The most important question is how quickly last year’s second and third starters, sophomore Dana Roberts and senior Amanda Watkins, will get healthy.

Watkins, who has gotten some work in during the first two tournaments, is slowly making her way back after spending the fall walking around with her foot in a boot. A starter since her freshman year, Watkins has the opportunity to make a large impact in her last season with the Crimson if she can get healthy.

“It’s just a matter of continuing, now that she’s throwing strong at 43 feet, working her technique, and getting her back in game form,” Allard says. “She’ll be ready to go.”

Roberts, Harvard’s second starter last year, is a bit further behind in her rehab, but coaches and teammates still expect she will be throwing in time for the Ivy season.

“The key for us is going to be about managing our injuries,” Madick says. “Pushing ourselves, but knowing when enough is enough.”

Until Roberts and Watkins are ready to contribute on a more regular basis, sophomore Margaux Black, freshman Alex Torres, and junior Bailey Vertovez have all taken over some of the pitching responsibilities.

In two tournaments, Black, Torres, and Vertovez, have pitched 7.1, 2.0, and 6.2 innings, respectively. In comparison, Madick has already worked 37.1 innings, more than the other three combined.

“[The pitching staff] has a lot of experience, so they know what they need to do,” Allard says. “It’s just a matter of getting out there and doing it.”

While coaches and teammates will look to Madick to be a reliable pitcher who will get out there and do it, she has a strong unit that is more than capabale of backing her up. That’s good, because, to borrow her own words, no pitcher ever won a game—let alone a second Ivy championship—by herself.

—Staff writer Julia R. Senior can be reached at jrsenior@fas.harvard.edu.

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