In November of 2009, while filling out her softball questionnaire prior to signing a National Letter-of-Intent with Stetson University, Meredith Owen listed one of her collegiate goals as desiring to pitch and hit for four years in college.
Stetson head coach Frank Griffin was one of the few coaches at that time to discuss that opportunity with her, but little did he know what a pitcher and what a hitter she would eventually become.
A double all-conference selection for the second year in a row, Owen has emerged as one of the top two-way players in the nation.
With a league-best 22 victories and a 0.90 ERA in the circle and a career-high 13 home runs as a hitter this season, Owen will look to help lead Stetson (34-12) in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship this week in Nashville, Tenn. The third-seeded Hatters will face sixth-seeded FGCU (30-24-1) in the opening round of the double elimination tournament at 4 p.m. Wednesday. All games through the semifinals can be seen for free on ASun.TV, while the championship game will be carried live by ESPN3.
Owen says her success on the softball field has been the result of countless hours of hard work and determination. In fact, the Jackson, Miss., native started late, trying the sport for the first time at the age of 10. Back then, she knew her skills were far behind those of her peers, who had already been playing for years.
“At first, I was told to keep working on my throws and catches, so I did that,” Owen said. “Then I was told to keep working on my hitting, so I did that. I kind of watched myself progress through working hard. I knew if I just kept doing that I could hopefully get a Division I scholarship and make it somewhere and do well.”
Owen also started pitching when she was 10, but it wasn’t until the later part of her career at Jackson Prep that she started to see a lot of innings in the circle.
“I played a lot of third base until my junior year,” Owen said. “After that, I pretty much pitched all the time, which was exhausting, but looking back now I see it was really good for me mentally. It taught me a lot of lessons.”
However, it was her .496 average and 24 home runs that made Owen an attractive recruit for some big-time collegiate programs, including Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Baylor, and LSU.
“LSU was the No. 1 school I was considering because my mom and my aunt both went there,” Owen said. “I went to camps there, and I talked to the coach a little bit. It is so funny because they talked adamantly about my hitting, but they never said anything about my pitching. Although hitting has always been my favorite thing of the two, I am still a pitcher at heart, and I have loved pitching since I was 10. For me, it wasn’t worth giving up.”
Along came Griffin, who was also quite interested in Owen’s hitting abilities. However, he left the door open for her to get an opportunity to pitch as well, and Owen liked what she heard.
“At the time, my pitching was not what it could have been, so he told me I had to work really hard if I wanted to pitch in college,” Owen recalled. “I just put that in my back pocket and started to work really hard from then on out.”
“I thought she might develop as a pitcher, depending on her work ethic,” Griffin said. “However, I felt like she could certainly hit at the Division I level, and for that reason I was willing to take the chance on her. It turned out her work ethic is outstanding, and she developed into a top-notch Division I pitcher. Also, we were right about her hitting.”
The results have spoken for themselves. Every year, Owen has seen her batting average increase and her ERA decrease. She has become just the second player in conference history to record 60 career wins and hit 30 career home runs. She is currently one of four players in the NCAA with as many as 20 victories and 10 home runs this season.
The most important numbers for Owen, however, are the digits in the win-column for the team. Not surprisingly, that statistic, too, has increased every year over the past four years.
“For me, it’s always been just trying to find a way I can contribute to my team the best way possible,” Owen said. “If that’s pitching at the time, then I am going to go out there and pitch my heart out. If they need me to get in there and get an RBI, that’s what I am going to try and do.”
Owen’s desire to pitch and hit for four years in college was not the only goal she listed on her questionnaire. She also listed playing in the Women’s College World Series. That has not happened for Owen, at least not yet.
“I feel like the sky is the limit for this team,” Owen said. “The more we play, the more we mesh well together. We have a great team, and as long as we stay humble and stay hungry, I feel like we could go anywhere.”
For the Hatters, that opportunity starts Wednesday.
What: 2014 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship
When: May 7-10
Where: Lipscomb University, Draper Diamond, Nashville, Tenn.
At Stake: The conference champion receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Broadcast: Wednesday-Friday games on A-Sun.TV. Championship game on ESPN3.
Live Stats: http://statb.us/b/53750 (FGCU game)
Quoting Coach Griffin: "We have to play a balanced game. The defense needs to play like it has all year, the pitchers need to have 'A' game, and we have to go up to the plate and swing the bat. Most importantly, we need to relax and have fun. There is a lot of quality pitching in the league, but I think the team that gets hot at the plate is going to win the tournament."