Softball Today's Fearsome Five Top High School Star Pitchers
by Kevin Beese
In softball, it all starts with pitching. An ace, someone who can take the mound every night is more important than anyone on the field. Unlike baseball, a softball pitcher can handle the rock every night and control a game. She is expected to throw shutouts, in 1-0 games, and be ready to roll again, even if it means taking the mound four times a day in a travel league tournament.
It takes passion and a lot of travel and time, but a really good high school pitcher can write out her own scholarship. Here are five who played travel, high school, and spent a lot of time working towards their scholarship.
(Houston County High, Ga.)
Jessica Burroughs has been little short of awesome since starting as a freshman pitcher at Georgia. She’s been getting letters from all over the country since she was a freshman, and finally, after a long recruiting process, signed to pitch for Florida State where she will start out as a freshman next season.
Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said that Burroughs can make an immediate impact.
“She spins the ball well and her personality is so bubbly yet she is very driven and a competitive player,’’ Alameda said. “She will balance us out in the circle and give us the depth we need.’’
Burroughs has several no-hitters on her resume and has been overpowering in Central Georgia since starting as a freshman. She’s been All-County and All-State since starting at Houston County. She’s a righty who spins it in the mid-60s, and became noticed by the big schools as a pitcher for prominent national travel team, the Atlanta Vipers. The team participated in the ASA Gold Nationals, one of the top tournaments in the nation, in San Diego.
Burroughs struggled with a shoulder injury last spring at Houston County, but the Lady Bears still managed to win their fourth straight regional title. Houston County has only four seniors, and the states are what is on her mind.
(Plano, Tex., East High)
Kern, who also plays for the Texas Glory Gold isn’t only solid on the mound, but she can also hit and play first base. She was a Texas Girls Coaches Association All-State first team player after going 20-6 with 131 strikeouts while hitting .427 with 3 RBI. She is also a defending winner of district MVP.
Kern has been on the national radar since she started getting recruiting letters from the University of Washington when she was 14. Washington was the defending national champion at the time, but when Kern homered in a major club tournament, Washington took notice and invited her to a camp.
However, Kern had other ideas and, after hearing from the University of Texas, she decided back in 10th grade that she wanted to be a Longhorn. Coach Connie Clark offered her the chance to give a verbal two years ago and when Kern decided she wanted to go to Texas, all she had to do was to convince her father who gave his permission. Now Kern is a Longhorn.
"Holly Kern is an athlete who has the ability to dominate in the pitcher's circle," Clark said. "She swings with power and can play first base in addition to her pitching duties. Holly is someone I am looking forward to working with in the bullpen as she has tremendous strength, upside and competes hard."
(Simi, Calif., Royal High)
It didn’t take Nancy Bowling long to commit to Arizona, one of the top softball programs in the nation. She gave her verbal during her sophomore season.
"Nancy is an outstanding athlete who will be one of the top pitchers in the country,’’ said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. “ She also is a superb hitter who can play first or third when not pitching. She has all the tools to be a dominant performer in the Pac-12. She’s a very competitive athlete."
Bowling is a double-threat. She is a top athlete who also is strong with the bat. Bowling hit .500 as a junior in high school, had a 0.49 ERA, and she has played at the top level of travel-ball competition. Bowling plays her travel ball with the nationally-known Orange County Batbusters.
(Woodlands, Tex., The Woodlands High)
When you are a softball pitcher in Texas, it is hard to leave the state. There are enough big-time schools to bring in the best, and Texas certainly has a lot of the best.
But Paige McDuffie decided to leave Texas last year, signing to pitch for UCLA next season. She sure put together a resume during her first three seasons at The Woodlands, and was named the 2010-2011 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year after putting together a 37-1 record and a 0.97 ERA. She struck out 244 batters in 216 innings, and batted .415 with 42 RBI. She was named the Class 5A Player of the Year and led the Lady Highlanders to a 44-1 record and a No. 1 national ranking to go along with a state title.
McDuffie, who pitches club ball for Sudden Impact Gold, can bring it at 70 mph, and throws all the pitches - rise, drop, curve, curve drop, screw and changeup.
UCLA coach "Paige is a powerful left-handed pitcher who had an outstanding junior year in Texas," said UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez. "She has command of all pitches and we look forward to her joining the Bruin family and the history of powerful pitchers in the circle for UCLA."
(Newnan, Ga., Northgate High)
After going 118-2 with 182 strikeouts in 125 innings, Clifton signed to play at Georgia Tech next season. It wasn’t just the numbers that made it a big season for Clifton. She was co-MVP on her team that won the Class AAAAA state championship. To that resume, she added two no-hitters and 11 shutouts.
Clifton also didn’t limit her talents to the pitcher's mound. She’s earned Defensive Player of the Year honors. Georgia Tech coach Sharon Perkins is looking forward to Clifton arriving at the nearby Atlanta campus after Clifton’s senior season.
“Ashley will be a great compliment to our pitching staff,’’ Perkins said. “She’s had success in high school as well as playing at a high level of travel ball.’’
One of the things that stood out during Newnan’s run to the state title, was that the Lady Vikings headed into the state tournament as a four seed in the double elimination event. Clifton got the job done and led the team to its second state title with a 26-6 record. Not bad for a pitcher who was actually cut from Newnan’s junior varsity team as an eighth-grader.