Athlete of the Week: Captain Pitches In for Crimson Win Streak

Change can make all the difference in pitching, whether it’s changing speeds, changing locations, or even changing roles. For captain Shelly Madick and the Crimson softball team, one change—moving Madick from her traditional task as a starter to more of a hybrid starter/closer role—has made batters miss more than any other.

Madick, the reigning Ivy League Pitcher of the Year and a unanimous First Team All-Ivy pick last season, took some time to hit her stride this season.

After a rocky outing against Princeton on March 30, when Madick gave up five runs in just 2.1 innings of work in a 5-4 Harvard loss, coach Jenny Allard changed up Madick’s role—and the Crimson’s fortunes.

“She wasn’t in a rhythm a couple of weeks ago, so I made the decision to move her in the closing role so she could come in and be a stopper at the end of the game,” Allard says. “She really took on that role and really excelled.”

Excelled is no understatement. Since the loss to Princeton, Madick has pitched 25.2 innings of scoreless softball, a stretch that has coincided with Harvard’s 11-game winning streak. Her new role began in an April 3 win over Cornell, the Crimson’s first Ivy victory after an 0-3 start, when Madick bailed sophomore Margaux Black out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth and pitched a perfect seventh inning to earn just her third career save.

Madick pitched six hitless innings in two games against Columbia the following weekend, got the win in both contests with shutout innings against Penn, then threw six shutout innings in relief of sophomore Dana Roberts against Holy Cross.

After lights-out pitching in her relief role and with Ivy League North Division play opening against Yale, Allard saw the opportunity to use Madick in a more traditional way. Madick got the start in the first game against the Bulldogs last Saturday and threw five shutout innings in a 7-0 Harvard win. The following day she closed both games, picking up the save in game three of the series—her fourth save of the year, tying the single-season school record—and producing two shutout innings in each contest.

Part of the success has been due to a change in mental approach as well.

“I think that earlier this season, and earlier in my career as a pitcher, I walked a lot of people and that’s been sort of my Achilles heel,” Madick says. “When I don’t walk people, I don’t think I’m getting hit really hard. But it’s been hard getting into the mindset of ‘pitch strikes and let the defense play and you’ll be fine.’ ”

Whatever struggles Madick may have with that in her mind, her teammates have certainly noticed a more confident leader on the mound in recent weeks.

“Shelly has a different sort of presence,” junior Bailey Vertovez says. “It’s just that she goes in there knowing that her team is going to get the job done behind her if she can get the pitches that will get a ground ball or a flyout or even a strikeout. She just has this sort of demeanor about her where we know that we’re going to get a win after she’s throwing.”

Of course, it helps that Madick is fully healed from a shoulder injury that hampered her endurance and delivery for much of the early part of the season.

“My shoulder was bothering me in the beginning of the season, but I’ve been working on rehab and I’m feeling a lot healthier now,” Madick says.

Either way, the transition from starter to closer to all-around pitcher suits Madick’s mentality well.

“I don’t really see myself as a starter or a closer, necessarily,” Madick says. “When Coach asks me for innings, I just throw. Whether it’s the beginning of the game, the end of the game, the middle of the game, wherever it may be, that’s my job. I’m a pitcher.”

A pitcher who, at this rate, is well on her way to more Ivy accolades.

—Staff writer Brad Hinshelwood can be reached at bhinshel@fas.harvard.edu.

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