West Jefferson sophomore Emily Stevenson stepped into the batter’s box during a recent game against Madison-Plains and the trio of Golden Eagles outfielders in the game quickly backpedaled to within a foot or two of the outfield fence.
In another matchup this season, Stevenson lined a rocket shot down the third base line in foul territory and nearly took off the head of Roughriders’ coach Jim Stevens who was about as out of the way as one could be and still be on the field.
Stevenson, a 6-foot tall, free-swinging softball standout has really come into her own this season for the Roughriders. She’s grown up at the plate and opposing pitchers are feeling the pain. She broke the school record for home runs in a season (six) earlier this year and her presence in the lineup is a big reason why West Jeff is looked as one of the favorites in the upcoming Division III district tournament.
But while her big hits and tape measure home runs make quite a statement, the soft-spoken Stevenson is comfortable just playing her role and helping her team win games.
“We all work as a team, but I try to be a leader as much as I can,” Stevenson said of she and her Roughriders teammates. “I love the girls on the team to death. They’re just like family. We know what it takes to be successful and we work hard.”
Coach Stevens knew he had something special a year ago in his big-hitting first baseman. But she may not have been as consistent as she could have been. That’s no longer the case, the sophomore’s game has blossomed and Stevens is all smiles when talking about her growth.
“I call it maturing,” he said. “She’s matured so much in the last year. This is her only sport and she’s really gotten stronger and grown up in the last year.”
A lot of that growth can likely be attributed to how Stevenson spent last summer and how she plans on spending this summer, playing travel softball with the Indiana Magic 18U team, an elite travel softball squad based out of Indianapolis that routinely plays tournaments all across the country.
“I feel like I’ve improved a lot since last year thanks to all my coaches and especially my dad working with me,” she said. “They’ve helped me come a long way.
“The girls on Indiana Magic are all from Indiana and the Chicago area. I’m the only one from Ohio. We traveled all over the country last year. We go to California, Florida, Colorado, Indiana and Georgia, all over. I think playing for them has really helped me. It’s brought me along really far and helped me realize what I’m getting into. It also helped me realize what my goals are and helped me realize what I want to do. Seeing good competition and seeing really good girls is going to help me get better.”
West Jefferson is surely benefiting from having a better Stevenson in the lineup. The Roughriders as a team are hitting at a record clip. The squad is the No. 2 seed in the Division III Central District tournament and just finished a perfect 12-o in winning the Mid-State League Ohio Division this spring.
The power surge in Stevenson’s game has the full attention of the Roughriders’ opponents as well as the guy looking for shelter in the third base coaching box whenever she comes to the plate.
“I know she’s only going to get better,” Stevens said. “I personally would not want to be anywhere close when she’s up there. If you’ve seen me I’m trying to back up as far as I can.”
“I just try and stay focused on what I need to do in the batters box,” she said. “After I’ve hit some home runs, I do start to think about them more. I come to the plate and it comes up in my mind. I just try to think about hitting it hard and they sometimes turn into home runs.”
The sophomore said she wants to help her Roughriders team win plenty more games over the next couple years, and hopes that her play will ultimately lead to bigger things.
“Playing in college is my goal, that’s what I’m shooting for,” she said. “I go to different college camps and when we go to tournament’s in places like California or Colorado, the college coaches tend to follow.”
She has a list of schools she really likes but admits that it’s still early in the process.
“I like Pittsburgh, Ohio State and Central Florida those are my top schools right now along with Indiana. There are a bunch more that are showing interest, I just have to keep my options open.”
Stevenson and her West Jeff teammates will open the D-III district tournament at home at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 14 against either No. 13 Elgin or No. 17 Utica.
Chris Miles can be reached at (740) 852-1616, ext. 18 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.