It’s always an excellent feeling when a humble, hungry, and hardworking individual receives an opportunity to perform on a bigger stage — whether it be in academics, athletics or the arts.
For Mary Pica, her work in the classroom and on the softball field has paid major dividends as the senior infielder signed a letter of intent with Rio Grande to further her education and her softball career.
However, Pica knows that it’s something that she couldn’t have accomplished without the support of her family, friends, and coaches that have helped push and prod her to bigger and better things.
“It feels good to know that people are relying on you to be a key member of the team,” Pica said. “I’ve also enjoyed playing under (Preston) Messer over the last four years. He’s a great coach. My teammates have been excellent, as well, and really get me pumped to play the game of softball. They’re just a good group of girls to be around, and they really make me happy.”
In Preston Messer’s eyes, Pica is a figure that will definitely be missed around the Minford clubhouse.
“Mary’s been a great asset to our team,” Messer said. “She’s started all four years that she’s been here, and we’ve moved her around at several different positions, such as catcher and shortstop. Wherever we’ve needed her, she’s been there. It’s good to see a hard-working kid like that move onto the next level.”
After playing a significant role on a team that made a district semifinal run in her freshman season with the Lady Falcons, Pica moved into the heart of the Minford order as a sophomore and hasn’t looked back since.
Over the past two seasons, Pica, who has proven to be an all-around utility player in the field, has turned into one of the most lethal hitters in the All-Southeast District from her cleanup position, as the senior has provided a strong bat that can hit for contact or power. That’s been proven in the accolades that the senior has obtained over the past two years, as Pica notched First-Team All-Southern Ohio Conference and Division III First-Team All-Southeast District honors in her sophomore and junior seasons, with the multi-talented infielder adding Division III All-State Honorable Mention accolades in the latter of the two years.
“Teams recognize Mary’s power, and of course, they’re going to pitch away from her,” Messer said. “It gets to her a little bit, but great players like her always expect the best out of themselves and find ways to adjust while doing so.”
Through her own playing abilities and accomplishments, which included Second-Team All-SOC honors, fellow friend and middle-of-the-order counterpart Ariel Kingery has also obtained a scholarship to rival Shawnee State University. Pica is excited about the possibilities and opportunities that those matchups will provide.
“It’s exciting that Ariel and I will both get to do something that we love whenever we go to college,” Pica said. “It’ll be fun to be on opposite sides of the fence (when Rio Grande and Shawnee State meet) and be able to see each other again.”
While the matchups will be intriguing with the two friends— along with Kelsey Conkey, Rio Grande’s ace in the circle — playing at rival schools, the matchup also presents a good opportunity for Messer to see what will be his former stars in the middle-of-the-order.
“It’s something to be proud of,” Messer said. “We’ve got a good group coming through. Getting out and playing travel ball helps the girls, too. Mary played travel ball under her Dad (Jeff), Ariel (Kingery) played travel ball, and (Kelsey) Conkey played travel ball. There’s been an uptick in the amount of people in the Minford community who are helping these girls out and who are fielding travel ball teams or are coaching in the Little League. That makes our high school team better, and it’s shown in the last few years.”
At Rio Grande, Pica will be joining a program that has been on a fast rise up the NAIA ladder. The RedStorm, behind the leadership of Conkey in the circle, have obtained a 16-6 record and sit in the 24th position in the latest NAIA poll in 2017, and finished 41-9 en route to winning the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference — now the River States Athletic Conference — title last season. Rio Grande has accumulated a 119-51 record over the past four seasons.
“I believe that it will be really exciting to start a new chapter with Rio Grande,” Pica said. “It’ll be a very good experience for everybody involved. I’m really excited to play for (Chris) Hammond. I know that he’s a good coach, and that’s evident in their 15-6 overall record and top 25 national ranking this year, and their 41 wins and NAIA Opening Round appearance last season.”
Like the program, however, Messer believes that the RedStorm are getting a winner.
“As a coach, you get attached to your players,” Messer said. “If you don’t, you’re in the wrong business, because you’re not doing it for the money. Mary’s a great athlete; one of the best on the team, but most importantly, she’s always been a good kid. She’s always kept a positive attitude and she’s coachable. Sometimes, you get a great athlete who’s uncoachable and has a bad attitude. It’s never happened with her. When you have that, it’s very exciting to see her go to the next level. It’s a special spot for you because of how she treated you as a coach, even though she was a great athlete. That’s special in a player.”
But Pica knows that it isn’t possible without the support of the family, friends, and coaches that have helped her along the way.
“It’s been relieving to know that you have someone to back you up when you’re going through life decisions,” Pica said. “It makes you feel comfortable in knowing that people care for you that much.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7