BELLVILLE — Clear Fork senior Rachel Wilson has made a name for herself throughout her high school career. She has compiled a 57-14 record so far, striking out 444 batters in 453 innings pitched. She has also won 15 games in each of the last three seasons.
The Colt, however, is not a pitcher by trade. She is a shortstop, and a very good one at that. She is headed to Kent State University to play for the Golden Flashes.
“Everybody jokes, and I do, too, that she is not a pitcher,” Clear Fork coach Jeff Gottfried said. “One hit in 15 innings in the regionals proves that she can pitch. There is no doubt. Will she pitch at the next level at Kent State? Who knows, but I know coach [Karen] Linder will be there this weekend to watch her.
“Rachel is a winner. If you want somebody that wants the ball, she is going to do it. She wants to win and loves to compete. Whether it is pitching or hitting or whatever, she wants to say, ‘Hey, I’m better than you are.’ She has come a long way, not only as a pitcher, but also as an overall softball player.”
This season, Wilson has pitched in just 19 of the Colts’ 32 games, compiling a 15-1 mark with three saves. Her numbers could be much better if she hadn’t missed a good portion of the season due to an injury. She was able to play in the field, but was unable to throw off the mound.
“It was a muscle in my hip,” said Wilson. “It hurt every time I would push off the mound; it made me walk funny so it made my back messed up a little bit more. That was the real problem, because you can’t pitch without twisting.”
Wilson has scoliosis, which only caused more problems when her muscle injury occurred.
“It really didn’t bother me until this year,” Wilson said. “This year, I wanted to work harder and pitch harder. Obviously, before the season, I did too much too soon. I think that’s what really hurt me. I hope it doesn’t bother me in the future. I’m hoping it will go back to normal.”
Even though she was in pain, Wilson wasn’t giving in. She could have moved to shortstop permanently and let her other teammates pick up the slack. Instead, she worked her way back onto the mound.
“I’m a fighter; I want to be out there on the mound,” said Wilson. “My teammates trust me out there and I trust them to make plays. I wanted to work through it.
“I was still pitching every day,” Wilson added. “I tried to keep doing it because once you stop for a couple of days, you are going to be way behind. I tried to warm up every day and at least get it loose. ... It was pretty painful. Bending down shot pain up my back, but I worked through it.”
Her coaches saw the progress she made.
“I think the most frustrating part for her was she was our main pitcher last year and threw quite a bit,” said Gottfried. “She wanted to go and wanted to go. It was kind of like a dog on a leash, just yanking on the chain really hard. I had to keep pulling the chain and tell her, ‘No. We’ll get you out there when it’s time to get you out there.’
“It was also kind of neat to see her step aside and allow some of her other teammates to do it. She’s never had a problem doing that, but she is a competitor; she wants the ball. It was neat because we didn’t miss a beat. We were throwing Lauren [Liberti] and Taylor [Thomas] both, and got them experience. It was frustrating for her, but I think she realizes we did the right thing by holding her out as long as we did. She is as strong now as she has been all year from an injury or health standpoint.”
The Colts didn’t blink when Wilson couldn’t pitch. They may have questioned themselves, but they didn’t let it stop them.
“I think at first, our team thought, ‘What are we going to do?,’ but I didn’t let them dwell on it,” said Gottfried. “I just looked at them and said, ‘Do you think we can’t win with someone else on the mound?’ Rachel was the first one to say it, and everyone responded no. Taylor stepped up and Lauren picked up where she left off as a sophomore. She didn’t pitch much last year, but as a sophomore, I kind of used her and Rachel interchangeably, especially toward the end of the season. The confidence was still there.”
When Wilson did return to the mound, she pitched like she had been there all season.
“When you get to the regional finals and give up one hit in two games, I guess that’s when she became ‘our’ pitcher. It is kind of a motivating tool that I use, a little reverse psychology,” said Gottfried. “I want her to say, ‘I’m going to prove to coach that I can pitch.’ She has, she certainly has. I’m very proud of her accomplishments.”
“I feel like we are all at the peak of our game right now,” said Wilson. “It is not just me. ... I had no idea about the no-hitter. I knew I was pitching pretty good, but they were a good team. I was focused on the next pitch instead of worrying about had happened.
“Truthfully, I didn’t feel like I was on the second game when I threw the one-hitter. I was definitely on in the semifinal. I was so focused I didn’t even notice the people that were yelling for us. I just zoned in.”
Gottfried is hoping the rest Wilson got early in the season will help her now. Down to the final two games of her high school career, he expects nothing but her best.
“There are a lot of kids that get to this point in the season and they’ve thrown quite a bit. It is very taxing,” said Gottfried. “For her, it hasn’t been a fast process. She was getting rehab the whole time even though she wasn’t pitching. She is as healthy as she is going to be until she shuts down and takes some time off.”
When the Colts square off against Tallmadge on Friday at 3 p.m., they will look to Wilson the lead the way. Her performance will go a long way in determining their fate, though it won’t be the only determining factor.
“My control is very important,” said Wilson. “As you go further in the tournament, you see better and better hitters. [Tallmadge] got there for a reason, so it is even more important now for me to hit my spots.
“I’m trying not to [put any pressure on myself],” she added. “Once I start putting pressure on myself, that’s when I get tense, and I do my best when I’m relaxed. I’m just trying to keep my mind off of it right now.”
Defense will also play a key role for the Colts. Wilson is anything but a dominant, strikeout pitcher. She has confidence, however, in each of her teammates
“I know when I go out there that they have my back,” Wilson said. “It is amazing because no one cares who gets the credit. We all, as a team, want to move forward and do the best we can.”
Gottfried is expecting the best from his senior leader. Coaching her for four years has given him insight, and he knows she is ready for this challenge.
“I think Rachel is excited,” Gottfried said. “She is not out to prove anything; she will give it her best shot. Most important, she is going to pitch for Clear Fork. She is not out there pitching for Rachel Wilson; she is pitching for the team, for the school and for the community. It is going to be so neat to see everyone there, supporting us, and we are going to give it our best shot.”