She Brings The Heat

Stephanie Speierman's pitching and hitting are leading her team to a season she hopes will bring Hammond a championship banner


April 18, 2007|By Glenn Graham | Glenn Graham,sun reporter

It almost seemed unfair.

After crushing a ball to deep center for a run-scoring triple in the first inning of last week's showdown against Centennial, Hammond pitcher Stephanie Speierman came to bat the next time and saw the Eagles' infield playing back.

What came next?

A perfectly placed bunt down the third-base line that gave the Bears a two-out base runner in the third inning. A couple singles later, they had two more runs on their way to a 3-0 win.

Vintage Speierman.

After enjoying an impressive freshman season that earned her second-team All-Metro honors and helped put Hammond on the softball map with a program-best 15 wins, the hard-hitting and hard-throwing sophomore has the Bears looking for more this spring. They went into the week ranked No. 7 with an 8-0 mark and Speierman has been in the middle of all the fun.

"It's amazing being a part of this team," said Speierman, who has notched all eight wins and is hitting .818 on the season. "Hammond has never won very much in softball. Last year was the first year we had a winning season, and I think it made all the girls think we could come back this year and be just as good, if not better. We've come out, worked hard and really want to do the best we can for the school - maybe see if we can get a banner up on our gym wall."

Over the years, the team has had its share of good hitters and competitive athletes who also play other sports. But the one thing missing was a dominant pitcher.

Enter Speierman.

"We've had other tools, but never a really good pitcher. Starting last year, Stephanie was the big catalyst as far as filling a position that we never really had before," said first-year coach Richard Pond, who served as an assistant the previous two seasons. "She's a real competitor and works well with the girls. She knows she's a very good player, but she's got the attitude that it's all about the team and not any one individual."

Knowing Speierman's passion for softball, it's not a surprise that she said one of her favorite softball moments came in a summer league game that lasted more than three hours.

Before she was old enough to play for a team, she would go outside and have her mother or father pitch a Wiffle ball to her. "And then our border collie, Belle, would chase it and bring it back," she said.

Speierman, who maintains a weighted 4.36 grade point average, said softball came to her naturally right from the start. She grew up a competitive swimmer for the Columbia Clippers, but she decided in middle school to devote her time for athletics to softball.

This summer, she will play her fourth season with the Maryland Stars, and last fall she earned a roster spot on Team New Jersey, a prestigious club team that competes in national tournaments.

"I just really love being out there on the field. I don't know what it is - there's just something about it that really makes me happy and wanting to keep playing hard," she said.

Speierman throws six pitches - a fastball, changeup, curve, drop, screwball and rise - with any of them coming at any time and at various speeds. After setting a county record with 283 strikeouts last spring, she has 142 so far this season, with a perfect game and a no-hitter also on her resume. She has yet to allow an earned run.

"I'll give it to her - she's good," said Centennial All-Metro shortstop Michelle Grap, who is one of the county's most feared hitters. "She kept a good attitude throughout the whole game, even when we put some base runners on - she's definitely got it."

Along with the different pitches she throws, Speierman constantly maintains a poised presence on the mound.

"I wish I could tell you where that came from, but I'm just not sure," said her father, Brad, who is an assistant coach and calls her pitches. "She can be in a tough situation and you would never know it. You just can't read her, and I think that helps her get through things."

After batting .379 with 21 RBIs and 19 extra-base hits last season, Speierman has started this season on a tear, hitting third in the Bears' lineup.

In back-to-back games last week against Centennial and defending county champion Long Reach - both shutout wins - she went a combined 8-for-8 with a homer to dead center, the triple that set the tone against the Eagles, two RBIs and two runs scored. In a 7-0 win over Marriotts Ridge on Friday, she hit a grand slam and was walked three times.

Her impressive work at the plate comes with a precise approach.

"Before I go up there, I watch what the pitcher is throwing to the other hitters and get my timing down when I'm on deck," she said. "I'm really trying to be confident and prepare myself to go up there knowing that I can do it. Once I'm in the box, I try not to think about anything but: `See ball, hit ball.' "

Freshman catcher Katie McCarthy, who bats fourth, gets a first-hand look at everything Speierman brings to the team.

"She's amazing. She throws on target all the time - inside, outside, up and down - you name it, she's got it," she said. "And when she goes up to bat, she has her mind there and doesn't let anything distract her. She's just a great teammate to have, and I feel very fortunate to play with her."

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