By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Sunglasses on whether it’s sunny or not, fastballs blazing and drop-balls dipping, Decatur senior Erika Southworth is an intimidating foe for those who dare step into the batters box.
But that’s just her on-field persona. When games are done, she talks with opposing players and has become friends with many.
And last week, she couldn’t help but get a little teary-eyed under her trademark shades.
On Thursday, Southworth won the 100th game of her career, at home against Gobles. On Saturday, at Climax-Scotts, Southworth recorded her 1,000th strikeout.
“None of my teammates knew until practice the day before. I think it motivated them more,” Southworth said of the 100th win. “At the end of that game, they came over and gave me a hug, and they said, ‘That win was for you. We worked hard for you.’ I got a little emotional.
“Both were a big deal to me. … But the wins mean more, I guess. Striking out a lot of people doesn’t matter if you didn’t win any games. I guess it means I had a pretty good career.”
A three-time all-state selection likely heading for her fourth, Southworth – a Second Half High 5 recipient this week – was going to be remembered regardless of those career milestones. But both cement her name in the MHSAA record book – she’s the 26th pitcher to win 100 games and 34th to strike out 1,000 batters, according to those lists.
This season, she’s 24-3 with a 0.83 ERA and 199 strikeouts in 157 innings pitched – with only eight walks. She’s also leading No. 7-ranked Decatur with a .448 batting average and 34 RBI.
Her career so far has included a Division 4 championship game appearance as a freshman (a 4-0 loss to Unionville-Sebewaing) and two more trips to Quarterfinals. It’s included the increase of pitching distance from 40 to 43 feet, a major adjustment for some that she used to become a better pitcher.
“In the early part of her career, she pitched kind of like a machine. I called the pitch and location, and she would just throw the pitch to the location,” Decatur coach Matt McLouth said. “After the mound went back to 43 feet, the pitches that she would strike out opposing hitters from 40 feet weren’t always striking out hitters from 43 feet. She really learned the art of getting hitters out. She learned that getting her opponent to hit a weak ground ball was just as good as getting a strikeout."
Southworth will take a “refined” repertoire with her this fall to the University of Michigan-Dearborn. The drop-ball is her favorite pitch. But McLouth said her change-up also has improved significantly over the last few seasons, and she’s added a rise ball to match.
The Wolves also will get a sports lifer who understands the value of dedication. Southworth has been part of Decatur’s softball program since joining as a team manager in sixth grade. She spent the first decade of her life running around the wrestling mat at the practices of her father Brian Southworth, who has won 567 matches over 28 seasons as Decatur’s coach in that sport, and also coaches the girls track and field team.
But before Erika leaves town and starts a degree in business, there's some to finish with the Raiders.
Decatur’s 2011 season ended with an 11-0 loss to Breckenridge. The team was relatively young and learned a lot that day about playing in pressure situations. Southworth is ready to pop on the sunglasses and lead her teammates on one more run – and earn a first championship to go with those other milestone numbers.
She’s learned, both on the diamond and the mat, what it will take to make that happen.
“I learned you have to work hard for what you earn. It’s not just given to you,” Southworth said. “Never give up. If you want something, you have to go and get it.”
Click to read more about Southworth's future plans and family ties.
PHOTO: Decatur's Krista Southworth prepares to fire a pitch during last season's Division 4 Quarterfinal against Breckenridge. (Photo couresty of High School Sports Scene.)