OSU's Mariah Gearhart stands her ground
OSU senior is NCAA softball career record holder for most times hit by a pitch.
STILLWATER — Mariah Gearhart's dad used to position the pitching machine to fire fastballs inside, then dare his daughter not to move.
Today, the Oklahoma State senior is the NCAA career record holder for most times hit by a pitch, absorbing 86 offerings — so far — to her arms, legs, ribs and other body parts.
Talk about taking one for the team. And, literally, that's the idea. Pain, what pain? A hit-by-pitch is a pass to first base.
That's what struck Mariah and her dad, Troy Hensley, when they would watch softball players bail out on inside pitches in the games they would take in on TV or in person.
“We'd be watching games together on TV,” said Gearhart, OSU's third baseman, “and we'd watch girls get out of the way and my dad just never understood. He'd be like, ‘Take it! Why do they move? That's a free base.'
“When I became a leadoff batter my sophomore year in high school, my dad was like, ‘That's a free base.' ”
And that's the way they approached it, turning batting practice sessions into hit-by-pitch practice.
Dad wasn't being mean or abusive, replacing the hard balls with softer, squishy ones. The focus was on the mindset, both personally and strategically.
“Eventually, we put it into the repertoire,” Gearhart said. “Just like working on hitting, we worked on getting hit. We set up machines so that they would throw inside and I wouldn't know the difference between the pitches that were going to hit me and the ones I could still hit.
“And we basically worked on taking the instinct to move out of me.”
And Gearhart's been standing her ground ever since.
She doesn't lean into pitches, but admits to crowding the plate just a bit.
“I'm on the plate more than most people,” said the product of Chula Vista, Calif. “I put my toes on the chalk line, but that's it.”
And when a pitcher ventures just a bit too far inside, Gearhart doesn't flinch.
“She refuses to move,” said Cowgirls coach Rich Wieligman. “In fact, I don't know that I've ever seen her get out of the way of a pitch — ever.
“And it puts pressure on pitchers, because they know they can't miss on the inside part of the plate, or they'll hit her. So a lot of times it plays to her benefit in that they get the ball over the plate.”
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