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October 10, 2005 - Image 18

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8B - The Michigan Daily - SportsMonday - October 10, 2005

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Senior pitcher Jennie Ritter's path to softball greatness wasn't
easy it took time and effort to become a national champion.
By Kevin Wright o Daily Sports Writer
Photos by Mike Hulsebus

ennie Ritter wanted to quit.
The 13-year-old Dexter native wasn't getting
any playing time on her 14-and-under summer
travel team, and she had had enough.
That is, until her pitching coach, Pat Brower, came
up to her and told her that he could help her improve
her pitching.
"I took (my lack of playing time) like I was ter-
rible - as opposed to what really was going on,"
Ritter said. "My pitching coach saw that I had an
ability. I took it to heart and listened to him and it
just kind of went from there."
By her senior year in high school, Ritter had thrown
nine no hitters, averaged two strikeouts per inning
and posted a 17-3 record during her junior year.
And now, after guiding the Wolverines to a Nation-
al Championship last year while earning high acco-
lades such as All-American, Big Ten Pitcher of the
Year, All-Big Ten first team and Michigan pitcher of
the year, the senior pitcher on the Michigan softball
team has proven she is more than capable to play the
game of softball at an elite level.
But even with last year's accomplishments, Ritter
is faced with a new challenge. Team leaders such as
Jessica Merchant and Nicole Motycka have gradu-
ated, and Ritter will be called upon to take on more
of a leadership role than last year, particularly with
the younger pitchers on the Wolverine staff - junior
Lorilyn Wilson and freshman Stacey Delaney.
"She needs to share her stories because she wasn't
always the top dog walking around with a trophy
around her neck," Michigan coach Carol Hutchins
said. "She went through her share of adversity. She
had to work to get to the top, and that's something
that the younger kids don't always realize. They don't
realize that everybody had to go the hard way. Nobody
walks in and goes the easy way."
The early years
itter's softball career began at the ripe age
of four on the well-worn city tee ball fields.
After tee ball, Ritter moved through the dif-
ferent levels of softball, playing coach pitch and then
kid pitch where she first started her pitching career
at the age of 12.
Following Brower's talk with the 13-year-old Rit-
ter, she went on to play on an 18-and-under travel-
ing team as a 14-year-old. The All-American credits
playing at that high level of competition for prepar-
ing her mentally for the high school and, later, the
college game.
"It was a good indication, getting to know what
it was like to play in high school or graduated and
looking to go to college," Ritter said. "I remember
trying to understand those girls and what they were
going through. Playing with them helped me to fig-
ure out how hard that I had to work to follow in their
footsteps."
When Ritter entered high school, she split her
time playing basketball and softball. In
basketball's realm, she flexed her muscles
I as a low-post

threat, revealing her innate intensity while making
the JV team as a freshman and the varsity team as
a sophomore.
"I wasn't the finesse player that liked to score a lot,"
Ritter said. "I was the one that got put in to push people
around, and I did."
During a close game against rival high school Chel-
sea, Ritter used her body a little too well, getting
kicked out the game after unintentionally elbowing a
girl in the shoulder while going for the ball.
"The game was down to the last two minutes, and we
had to intentionally foul," Ritter said. "It got so out of
hand that I went for a ball and as the girl turned, I hit
her in the shoulder and knocked her down."
While Ritter enjoyed both sports, she realized that
she had to make a choice between basketball and soft-
ball, and a scary incident during a game on the hard-
court greatly influenced her decision.
Later in her sophomore season, she was going for a
breakaway lay-up when she was pushed from behind.
Landing awkwardly, Ritter stretched her thumb back,
pulling a ligament.
"I realized that I loved softball and had to make
a choice," Ritter said. "If I had torn the ligament, I
wouldn't have been able to throw a ball anymore. It
was a big wakeup call. I had to make a decision. I miss
it, but when you love something more, it doesn't matter
as much."
On the high school softball field, Ritter enjoyed her
best year as a junior, helping her team finish with a
Dexter High School record 30 wins.
"We had a great time and loved it," Ritter said. "It
was probably the first time that I'd actually been on a
team that was so into winning. We didn't make it out of
districts but it didn't matter. It was a big turning point
for Dexter softball."
. Her father, John Ritter, recalls a high school tourna-
ment hosted by Michigan at Mitchell Field in which his
daughter pitched five games in a day. She tallied a one-
hitter, a two-hitter and three no-hitters while throwing
over 500 pitches.
"The parents weren't too happy about her pitch
count," John said. "But her coached asked her if she
could do it and she said yes."
A difficult transition
Coming to Michigan seemed like a no-brainer to
those around Ritter. Her father pitched for the
Wolverines during the late '60s and her sister,
Megan, was already on the softball team.
"She visited some other schools, but she said that it
was hard to see herself wearing another jersey other
than the Maize and Blue," John said.
Not only did the Ritter family history with the Wol-
verines influence her decision to attend Michigan but
also Ritter's profound respect for Hutchins.
"I was really impressed with her ability to see her
team on a personal level as well as a coach," Ritter
said. "That was important to me - that I would have a
great relationship as well as a great coach. I knew that
this was the kind of area that I wanted to be in."
When Ritter committed to play for the Wolver-
ines, she knew that she had
the talent to pitch on colle-
giate level, but for Hutchins,
that realization came during a
later visit to watch Ritter pitch at
Dexter.
It was a cold, spring day and
Hutchins sat in her car, not want-
ing to get out until she could confirm that
the future Wolverine was actually going to
pitch. As she sat in her car behind the field, she
realized the potential that Ritter had to be great.
"We knew that she was a good pitcher, and we
thought that she was pretty special as we followed her
through youth ball," Hutchins said. "But it wasn't
until that day that it actually struck me how much
she resembled Sara Griffin. Her pitching style was
almost exact."
Hutchins comparison to Griffin warranted the
belief that Ritter could be a star pitcher. Griffin
was a three-time All-American and one of just
three Wolverines to win 30 games in a sea-
son - Ritter joined her in this category
last season.
Embracing excellence
itter did have the
potential to be a
great pitcher at
the college level, but she
entered the program her
U freshman year believ-
n that she alredv

Jennie Hitter

ERA W-L GS IP SO
Freshman 1.59 5-2 8 66 68
Sophomore 1.18 24-8 31 207.2 269
Junior 0.92 38-4 41 288.2 417
Career 1.10 67-14 80 562.1 754
before Hutchins told her otherwise.
"If you look back at her performances her freshman
year, she did not realize - as good as she was - how
much further she had to go," Hutchins said. "Her
biggest issues were that she could make some great
pitches but couldn't make them pitch after pitch."
After seeing limited action during her freshman
campaign - posting a 5-2 record in 66 innings, Rit-
ter used the knowledge gained from the pitcher's
circle and conversations with Hutchins to improve
her composure and overall pitching.
Even though Ritter pitched a considerably larger num-
ber of innings the next season -she threw 207 2/3 innings
and had a 24-8 record with a 1.18 ERA - Hutchins still
believed that the sophomore simply wore down toward
the end of the season, during the Big Ten tournament and
NCAA postseason play.
"I feel that, her sophomore year, she didn't have
the ability to mentally carry herself through the
entire season," Hutchins said. "The entire season is
extremely grueling, and she did very well for us for
a good portion of the season. But I really felt that she
kind of lost her focus at the end of the season."
When Ritter's sophomore season came to a close,
Hutchins still fostered doubts about whether Ritter had
the mental make-up to succeed at the college level.
"I had some doubts about her because I knew that
she mentally was weak," Hutchins said. "She was
not nearly as tough as we needed her to be."
But after working with pitching coach Jennifer
Brundage - who believed in Ritter's greatness
from day one - and employing her personal deter-
mination to succeed, Ritter set herself up to prove
Hutchins wrong going into her junior season.
The driven Ritter didn't disappoint.
Ritter led the Wolverines in wins with 38 and also
guided Michigan to its first ever softball national
championship.
Using the ability to reach all four planes of the
strike zone with her curveball, rise ball, screwball
and dropball, Ritter shut down opposing hitters
throughout the season, pitching three no-hitters and
16 shutouts. She ended the season with a minuscule
0.92 ERA in 288 and 2/3 innings pitched.
In the deciding game of the World Series Champi-
onship against UCLA, Ritter pitched all 10 innings,
allowing just one run while hurling 119 pitches,
striking out four Bruins and allowing just five hits.
Even though Ritter enjoyed career highs in most sta-
tistical categories, Hutchins credits her improved matu-
rity on the mound for her dominance throughout the
season. Instead of faltering toward the end of the season,
Ritter rose to the occasion. notching a 10-3 record in

- No. 5 all-time at Michigan with 67 career wins
* No. 3 all-time career winning percentage (.827)
- No. 2 all-time with 754 career strikeouts
" Holds single-season strikeout record (417-2005)
* 4 career no-hitter ties record (Vicki Morrow, 1984-87)

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