Spartanburg, S.C. – As a standout pitcher at USC Upstate, Morgan Childers dominated the competition nearly every time she stepped into the circle from the time she was a freshman through her senior season in 2011. In the midst of a strong senior year when she won 29 games, she was selected by the Akron Racers with the 14th overall pick of the 2011 NPF Draft this past March. On Sunday, she earned her first career victory, going 4 1/3 innings to earn the 3-2 win over the NPF Diamonds.
Childers' story at Upstate has been well-documented. Fresh off of a dominant career at Kings Mountain High School in Kings Mountain, N.C., she burst onto the Upstate scene with a school record 18 strikeouts while tossing a seven-inning no-hitter in her collegiate debut. By the time she finished her career, she broke 11 career and single-season school records, including 113 wins, 1,338 strikeouts, 42 shutouts and six no-hitters in her career. She broke the all-time A-Sun record for wins and finished second in strikeouts and shutouts.
She was named the A-Sun Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year in 2008, the first and only player to receive both honors in the same season in A-Sun history, en route to leading the Spartans to a share of the A-Sun regular season championship in the program's first season playing on the Division I level. She ended her career with three first team all-conference and one second team all-conference selections, one of only seven players in the history of the league to earn four all-conference honors. She was a two-time all-region pick and is the only student-athlete to win back-to-back Student-Athlete of the Year awards at Upstate (and the second to ever win the award twice). She also became the first student-athlete to ever have their jersey retired at Upstate, an accomplishment that may be greater than any single award the university could bestow upon her now or in the future.
Her academic and service record off the field was just as impressive as her accomplishments on the diamond. She was a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-District selection, a four-time A-Sun All-Academic team member and has volunteered for several civic and community service projects and programs. She was a national semifinalist for the Lowes Senior CLASS Award.
Put simply, she is one of the all-time great student-athletes to ever play a sport at Upstate. Not just in the softball program where she is the best ever, but in the whole athletic department. That goes back to the days of the men's basketball team which won the 1982 NAIA national championship under the leadership of future NBA player Michael Gibson and Harlem Globetrotter James Holland. It goes back to the myriad of men's soccer players who defined the tradition-rich men's soccer program which includes individuals like Martin Hill, Henrik Ronnevig and Ricky Charles. It goes back to the standout volleyball and women's basketball teams which had players who made their mark and set the bar for women's athletics at Upstate. And, it coincides with two other student-athletes who have spent time at Upstate with Childers and who have substantiated themselves as all-time department greats, former men's golfer Josh Gallman and current men's cross country/track runner Gilbert Kemboi.
Her resume, as long as it is, is simply amazing in what she accomplished as a student-athlete at Upstate. Being able to watch her on and off the field for four years was simply a memory that will always be cherished. You just don't come across individuals like Morgan Childers very often.
Childers, though, is pursuing life after Upstate and is early in her professional career. On March 18, she was selected by the Akron Racers in the fourth round and with the 14th overall pick of the NPF Draft. The craft that she has spent her life working on, the hours of pitching lessons, working with her dad, working in the bullpen with Upstate pitching coach Ciria Triplett and talking and working with Upstate head coach Chris Hawkins, prepared her for her next step as a professional pitcher in the only professional women's fastpitch softball league in the United States. The funny thing is, Childers really had no expectation that a professional career was even a possibility.
"About a month before the draft, Haley Sheehan's (rising senior at Upstate and a junior on the 2011 team) dad asked me if I was going to play pro softball," said Childers. "At the time, I had no idea I could play. I knew there was a pro league, but I figured I didn't have a chance to make it to that level. Then, Coach Hawkins told me that a couple of teams had called to ask about me and were interested in drafting me. I am so excited to have been given the opportunity to be a professional player. It has been a wonderful experience so far."
She opened her career going four innings in a 5-2 loss to the NPF Diamonds at home in Firestone Stadium in Akron,Ohio, on June 12. She was cruising along with the game tied at 0-0 in the fourth inning. Two bloop hits and a three-run homer later, Childers was welcomed to the professional ranks with the knowledge that she is now facing the nation's best, and arguably the world's finest, softball players. She didn't get the win in her first start, but she certainly gained the valuable experience needed to compete at the highest level.
She got the call in game four of the four-game series against the NPF Diamonds in Kissimmee, Fla. The Racers had already taken three-straight against the Diamonds and were looking for the series sweep. A week earlier, the Diamonds had taken three-of-four against the Racers in Ohio. Childers obviously learned from her first outing against the Diamonds. She was simply dominant in 4 1/3 innings of work. She struck out eight and allowed one run on one hit before being taken out in the fifth.
She struck out the side to open the game, fanning Kristin Schnake (Georgia), Aja Paculba (Florida) and Biannca Mejia (Long Island University) in the first. In the second, she got two fly outs to left field and a strikeout. She struck out two and got a ground out to first in the third inning as the game went into the fourth with a 0-0 tie.
In the top of the fourth, Kelley Montalvo (Alabama) scored from third on a wild pitch to give Akron a 1-0 lead. In the bottom of the frame, Childers struck out Schnake and Mejia and got Paculba to fly out to centerfield. The Racers added a run in the top of the fifth inning on Sharonda McDonald's (Texas A&M) sacrifice fly, giving Akron and Childers a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth, Childers recorded an out to open the inning, then allowed a walk and a single before being taken out, replaced by Kristina Thorson (California). The next batter reached on an error by the second baseman with a runner scoring from second on the play. The run was charged to Childers, though with a double play ending the inning on the next batter, the run should be counted as unearned.
Akron held on for the 3-2 win and Childers earned her first professional victory. Not bad for a 5-5 kid out of central North Carolina who was passed over by most major colleges because of her size and the fact that she didn't throw as hard as Cat Osterman (USSSA Pride, Texas) or Monica Abbott (Chicago Bandits, Tennessee), now fellow professional pitchers in the NPF. But, with exceptional movement and location of her pitches, Childers has shown the ability to succeed early on in her professional career, continuing to build on a resume already filled with accomplishments.
"The first time we played them (the Diamonds), it was my first time pitching here and I was really nervous," said Childers. "I was super excited and I had kept them off guard, even though I had given up a few hits. In the fourth inning, they had runners on first and second and I got nervous. I don't know why, but I did. I started pitching not to lose instead of pitching to win. Last week, I concentrated on having the mentality that I was going to win. Plus, I learned to throw a drop ball and a new changeup. Both pitches worked in the game on Sunday and I was able to keep them off balance. I was determined to battle through it when I got people on base and ended up doing well."
Just two games into her career, Childers has already made her mark in the professional ranks. She is 1-1 heading into this weekend's four-game series with the Chicago Bandits at Firestone Stadium. The series will be a matchup of the two teams tied atop the NPF standings at 5-3. The Bandits enter the series with a two-game winning streak. Thanks to Childers' efforts on Sunday, the Racers enter with a league-best five-game winning streak.
Childers has struck out 12 batters in 8 1/3 innings, racking up the second-most strikeouts on the team in the third-most innings. She ranks fifth in the NPF and is the only pitcher with 12 or more strikeouts who has pitched less than 15 innings. Osterman leads the league with 30 in 18 innings of work.
When she first got to Akron, Childers admittedly felt nervous and maybe even a little scared about pitching in the pros. Some of her preconceived notions formed on things she had heard were debunked. Many things became clear to her, including Sunday when she realized she can compete on the professional level.
"It's different than I had thought it was going to be because I thought it was going to be less than what it is," said Childers. "I had heard that is wasn't as hardcore as college, but it is. We have team practices, we work out twice a week. I love going to practice because I get to listen, watch and learn. What this is going to do for me as a pitcher and what this is going to do for me as I try to build my career as a coach is important. I am learning so much about the game which will help me in the future.
"The team is amazing. The girls are all competitive and we get along very well. It's even better after this weekend. When I first got here and I was watching Lisa Norris (North Carolina) pitch, I was so nervous and a little scared. She throws so hard and has great movement on her pitches. I hadn't really faced this tough of competition before. This weekend proved that I could play on this level. It is a very humbling experience, but one that I am so excited about and have enjoyed so much since I have been here."
What the future holds for Childers as a professional pitcher is unknown. What is certain is that Childers has entered this phase of her pitching career the same way she has always faced competition be it in high school or in the circle wearing the green, white and black for Upstate. She will use every bit of her talent on the field. She will use everything she has mentally to prepare for games and battle during contests. And, she will use that special "something" that only a select number of athletes have to give her that added boost that generally leads to success. If Sunday was any indication, Childers may very well enjoy success on yet another level of softball…the highest level.
The NPF, National Pro Fastpitch, is the only major professional fastpitch softball league in the United States. Four teams make up the league, including Childers' Akron Racers, USSSA Pride, Chicago Bandits and NPF Diamonds. Stats, standings and live webcasts of the league games can be found on the NPF website at www.profastpitch.com.