By Greg Ford
Mary Stephens was a significant force during her four years with the Wylie softball team. During that span, Stephens, a power-hitting first baseman, was a key player offensive and defensively for head coach Heather Damron and her Lady Pirates.
It appears, at least based on her freshman season, she’ll be performing similar feats for Missouri State.
Stephens recently began her sophomore season with the Bears in Atlanta — the recent home of highways turned into ice-covered parking lots — where the Lady Bears opened the 2014 season against Georgia Tech.
The Bears also visited North Texas this past weekend for the UTA Maverick Invitational in Arlington.
“I’m hoping for another successful year and working with the team to be as good as last year and excel beyond that,” Stephens said.
As a team, the Bears made the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in 2013, only to lose in the first round. Individually, it was a stellar campaign for Stephens, who, fresh off four exceptional years at Wylie, stepped up at the Springfield-based college and proceeded to earn All-MVC, second-team honors as a designated hitter.
During that 52-game stretch, Stephens started 47 times and played in 51 contests, while collecting 47 hits and 25 RBIs. She finished with a .309 batting average, which included two doubles and a homer, the latter being a birthday gift (Feb. 15) to herself in a game with Boise State. Stephens also had 19 hits with runners in scoring position, the most for any Bears in 2013.
“It was a little bit different,” Stephens said of her freshman year. “School work was obviously a little bit different. Athletically, it was about the same … It was really exciting.”
Adjusting to college-level softball was something of a challenge, but one Stephens was prepared to meet, thanks to the amount of time playing softball at the high school and select levels. The latter was particularly important, because it exposed Stephens to quality pitching similar to what she’s now facing at the collegiate level.
“I wouldn’t say there was too much adjustment, except for the (pitching) speed,” Stephens said.
This season, that shouldn’t be a problem.
“I’ve seen some of the pitchers, if not all, so I’ll be pretty prepared,” Stephens said.
Like at the prep level, playing college softball requires year-round commitment, with the former Lady Pirate noting things are more intense in college, where sports “is pretty much a job.”
Being a student is also part and parcel of that “job,” and in that arena Stephen is using her time to pursue a major in parks and recreation, with an emphasis on sports administration. At present, her goal is to become a collegiate-level softball coach, but Stephens noted if that doesn’t pan out, her major provides a way to stay affiliated with the sport in some manner.
Currently, that association is on the field, where Stephens has a chance improve on her impressive collegiate start.
Judging by the previous years on the diamond, it’s a good bet that’ll happen.