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COLLEGE SOFTBALL: Former Wildcat finds stroke at Longwood
When Megan Baltzell arrived at Longwood University on a softball scholarship in the fall of 2011, she thought her days of playing basketball were behind her.
But the Lancers had a player shortage prior to the 2011–12 season. Coach Bill Reinson recruited members of the softball team to walk on, and Baltzell agreed to do so.
The Mountain View High School graduate said she enjoyed the experience. She averaged 2.6 points and 2.0 rebounds in 11.3 minutes per contest. She was able to travel the country and play against national powerhouse Notre Dame.
However, despite the memorable moments on the hardwood, Baltzell was eager to focus solely on softball.
She did just that this past winter and the result has left many Longwood opponents dazed.
Baltzell has set school and Big South Conference records with 22 home runs, which leads the nation. And she has at least nine more regular-season games (plus the conference tournament) left to play.
(The NCAA Division I record is 37, set by Arizona’s Laura Espinoza in 1995.)
Baltzell, a sophomore catcher, was The Free Lance–Star player of the year as a senior at Mountain View. She is batting .421 and is tied for the team lead with 57 RBIs. She also leads the Lancers (33–11, 13–5 Big South) in slugging percentage (1.015) and total bases (135) and is second on the team with 12 stolen bases.
Longwood veteran coach Kathy Riley said she recruited Baltzell because of her versatility, but she’s been taken aback by the power she’s displayed.
“I think I saw the kind of potential that we’re getting out of her in that she can do a lot of things really well,” Riley said. “We thought she could hit with power. She’s got good speed. She’s got a good arm and she’s got good size and she loves the game. But I don’t think we ever expected her to lead the country in home runs.”
Baltzell said her unexpected introduction to Division I athletics propelled her to where she is now. The constant running in basketball practice led to a
20-pound weight loss.
Riley said Baltzell showed up to softball practice as a freshman in shape and ready to contribute. She went on to a successful initial campaign, but struggled in certain areas.
Runners stole bases at a high rate. And she struck out approximately 50 times. This season she’s allowed just 13 stolen bases and she’s been fanned on 12 occasions.
Baltzell said that’s because she was able to focus strictly on softball this past winter after she spent the fall getting stronger in the weight room.
“It’s a lot less stressful than last year because two sports at a Division I level is very stressful on one person,” Baltzell said. “So when I got off for winter break, during those five weeks, I really focused on my swing and the problems and kinks I had rather than focus on my strengths. It’s paying off now.”
It’s paying off for the Lancers, as well. In their first season as members of the Big South, they’re tied for second in the conference with Coastal Carolina.
They are coming off a doubleheader sweep of Virginia Tech on Wednesday in which Baltzell connected on three home runs. After two blasts in the final game, Baltzell was intentionally walked.
“I think that was a smart idea,” she said.
It was also a savvy move for Riley to recruit Baltzell, who didn’t receive another Division I scholarship offer.
Former Mountain View softball coach Pattie Sullivan said she tipped Riley off to Baltzell because in her opinion Longwood was a strong academic school with rising athletic programs.
Riley showed up to a Mountain View practice and was impressed by Baltzell. Riley said the Lancers “certainly benefited,” from Baltzell’s lack of exposure.
“I’m absolutely not surprised by what she’s been able to do,” Sullivan said. “I knew she had the ability. She was one of the best hitters to come across our home plate. She’s just done a phenomenal job and it’s nice to see her mature and develop on the next level.”
Riley said the development isn’t complete. She wants Baltzell to become better at framing pitches so Longwood’s pitchers have more opportunities to throw strikes.
She wants to continue to recruit players to place around Baltzell so there’s not too much pressure on her. But after slimming down and getting stronger through basketball, Baltzell believes she can carry the load. Her goal is to help lead the Lancers to their first-ever Division I NCAA tournament appearance.
“I believe that our team has the willpower, the strength, the hitting power and the defense to win the Big South,” Baltzell said, “and maybe even get a couple of regional wins, depending on who we’re going against.”
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