Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018, brought to Mississippi University for Women its first softball game in 15 years. On a renovated field and in front of almost 100 fans, the Owls softball team made its 2018 debut. With a new team and new coaching staff, everyone was nervous about their first outing, but Coach Tat Matthews had one message for her team. “Play for your why.”
In her pre-game talk to the team, Coach Matthews told her players the story of Buster Douglas. Douglas, a professional boxer, took down the undefeated Mike Tyson after recovering from an almost knock out in an earlier round. When asked how he was able to come back and defeat the then 37-0 Tyson, Douglas said that his mom believed that he would win and when she died a month prior to the fight, he knew he had to win for her. “His why was that his mother died 23 days before he fought Mike Tyson and his why was bigger than anything else,” was Coach Matthews words to her team before the big game. “Play for your ‘why’ and make your ‘why’ greater than the obstacles you have in front of you.”
After falling 12-1 in game one of the doubleheader against Millsaps, the Owls hung on to the words their coach spoke to them earlier in the day, and Sunday’s second game became the perfect example of the word perseverance. The Owls got knocked down after that first game but they came back and played through cold temperatures and wet conditions. They played with passion and not only won the second game, but defeated the Millsaps Majors 7-2.
That fight shows the character of the team, and as athletes, they must be able to persevere through anything. Several members of the Owls softball team had to overcome personal obstacles leading to the 2018 season.
Junior | Pitcher | Bay Springs, MS
Madison Scoggin joined The W's softball team after playing two years at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville. In high school, Scoggin tore her ACL in a game during her senior year. She thought her chances of playing on the next level were slim, but she worked hard to recover and was offered a role as a starting pitcher for the Pearl River softball team.
In her opening game as a Wildcat, Scoggin’s nerves got the best of her and she was unable to control her pitching mechanics. Due to poor placement of her feet, an opposing batter hit a two-runner homer and she was taken out. “The coached pulled me from the game and I never saw a starting position again.”
In that post-season one-on-one, the coach told her everything she needed to work on to reclaim her starting role. “I did what she told me to do,” said Scoggin. “But I ended up pitching more my freshman year than I did my sophomore year and I just knew I’d never really pitch again.” Scoggin came to The W on a visit and she felt that Coach Matthews would be the driving force in getting love for the game back in her. “She told me that if I came here I was going to be a starter and a great asset to the team.”
During the fall season, Scoggin believed that she would be a second game starter or a first game reliever, but after changes to the roster she had to step up into that ace role. In the first game on opening day, Scoggin was nervous. “The last time I started was a bad outing so I was hoping that this outing would be better and it was.” Despite the score, she only gave up a few hits and none of them were home runs.
To others who may find themselves in a similar situation, Scoggin said, “Don’t give up. Keep on fighting. There were many times where I thought I wasn’t a good pitcher and through the support of my family and teammates, I didn’t give up.”
Senior | Pitcher | Steens, MS
In high school, Cara Hopper was diagnosed with accessory navicular syndrome, a condition in which an extra bone or piece of cartilage grows on the inside of her foot. She was warned that with the condition she had to be very careful because an injury could cause major damage to her feet. Toward the end of her high school career, she injured her right foot and severed her posterior tibial tendon, an injury that could have kept her away from pitching.
Hopper worked hard and got back into playing shape and Itawamba Community College took a chance on her. She played for two great years before transferring to Blue Mountain College. She played well her junior year but injured her left foot going into her senior year. “I was faced with a choice,” said Hopper. “Do I just tough it out and play at only 50 percent and end my playing days on a bad note or do I have the surgery and hope for another year of playing so that I can finish strong?” She decided to take her chances and have the surgery, despite the advice of those around her. She did not give up. Hopper transferred to The W and became a part of the new era of Owls softball. In her first appearance on the mound at The W, Hopper pitched a full seven innings to help lead her team to a 7-2 victory and their first win of the 2018 season.
“When you deal with an injury it's always tough. You always have that feeling of what will happen if I don’t recover,” Hopper says of making it through. “You just have to trust that if you do make the decision to have the surgery or get the treatment, you’re going to do all that you can to get back to what you once were.”
Junior | Infield | Hattiesburg, MS
Looking at Kristen Martin, you would never know the pain that she hides from the world. She always has a smile on her face and a kind word to say to her teammates and coaches.
At the age of 6, Martin’s biological mom passed away. It was hard for her, but at such a young age she did not understand it and did not feel the weight of it.
A few years later, her father remarried and she grew up knowing Sunny Simmons Martin as “momma.” Sonny raised Kristen as her own for almost 14 years and she was the only mother that she’s ever really known.
During her first semester at The W, four months prior to the 2018 softball season, Sunny Martin also passed away.
“That broke me,” Martin said while telling her story of perseverance. “I wanted to go home and if it wasn’t for my team and my coach I wouldn’t be here. Because of them, my family and my faith, I’ve been able to live everyday happily. I know that we aren’t guaranteed each day so we have to live each day fully.”
Her motto is “if God brings you to it, He will bring you through it,” words she has had to live by daily. “You have to keep going. There’s so much more to life than giving up. I know if I had given up and gone back home, that would have hurt my team.”
As she talked about the start of the season, Martin said, “Softball is my outlet. I have to play for the person next to me. I don’t have to worry about what’s outside those lines. Only what happens between those lines is important.” Her advice to others who are going through it, “It is going to hurt but you can’t give up. You can’t be selfish and you have to be stronger than what has happened. You are being used in some aspect of your life and God is using His strength through you and you will get through it.”