Heinze caps ster­ling sea­son

Former Knight erupts at Mount St. Mar y’s

Maryland Independent - - Sports - By MICHAEL REID mreid@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SOMDhab­s­fan

Rachel Heinze made her mark as a soft­ball player at St. Mary’s Ryken High School and now she’s do­ing the same as she’s dom­i­nat­ing op­po­nents at Mount St. Mary’s Univer­sity.

The 20-year-old Char­lotte Hall res­i­dent was re­cently named first-team All-North­east Con­fer­ence and thirdteam All-Re­gion at util­ity/ non-pitcher by the Na­tional Fast­pitch Coach’s As­so­ci­a­tion after a ju­nior sea­son in which she dom­i­nated of­fen­sively. The catcher/ out­fielder en­joyed a record-break­ing sea­son for the Moun­taineers as she led the team in bat­ting av­er­age (.347), runs scored (44), dou­bles (12), RBIs (40) and stolen bases (12).

“I think ev­ery­thing just started click­ing,” Heinze said in a tele­phone in­ter­view while va­ca­tion­ing in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, “and I started tak­ing the men­tal part of the game more se­ri­ously.”

She also smashed 19 home runs, which shat­tered both the Mount’s and the NEC’s sin­gle-sea­son record for homers. The pre­vi­ous NEC mark was 16 set by Wag­ner’s An­drea Laz­zari in 2009. The pre­vi­ous Mount record of 11 was set in 2010 by Liz Chris­tiansen.

“I think a lot of peo­ple are sur­prised, but she’s an awe­some kid and she did ex­actly what I thought she was ca­pa­ble of,” Mount head soft­ball coach Anna Na­gro said. “You get a lot of kids that ei­ther they do or they don’t and you don’t hear about it but she did, and I’m so happy ev­ery­one’s real­iz­ing how great she is.”

“It’s her work ethic,” said Ryken head soft­ball coach Jim Sewell, who coached Heinze her ju­nior and se­nior sea­sons. “What­ever you would ask her to do, she would do it and not only what she was do­ing for me in prac­tice, she would go home and prac­tice with her dad. And that same work ethic and drive is there to­day.”

After de­cent fresh­man and sopho­more sea­sons, Heinze busted out of­fen­sively this past year. The psy­chol­ogy major more than dou­bled her first two sea­sons out­put in her ju­nior year alone.

“I think ev­ery­thing started click­ing men­tally,” she said. “And if I didn’t do some­thing right I didn’t let it carry on into my next at­bat. I just moved on.”

She is al­ready in the top 10 in seven of­fen­sive cat­e­gories for Moun­taineers ca­reer records.

Heinze is al­ready at No. 1 in ca­reer home runs with 26 after com­bin­ing for just seven her fresh­man and sopho­more sea­sons.

“I’m my big­gest critic and my own big­gest down­fall and that’s prob­a­bly why I wasn’t happy with ei­ther my fresh­man or sopho­more years,” Heinze said. “I was play­ing mind games with my­self, but I seemed to take off this year.”

This spring, she banged five homers in a 10-game span early in the sea­son be­fore erupt­ing for nine dingers — in­clud­ing three in a two-game se­ries against Mor­gan State — over 12 games mid­way through the cam­paign.

She capped her sea­son in sto­ry­book fash­ion when she drilled a 3-ball, 0-strike pitch over the fence for a 4-3 walk-off, two-run homer over Wag­ner on May 7. It was her sec­ond walk-off homer of the year after a three-run homer beat Sa­cred Heart 8-7 on April 10.

“I didn’t re­ally know they were try­ing to walk me, but they threw me three straight balls and ap­par­ently their coach was telling their pitcher to pitch it way out,” Heinze said. “And at point I kind of knew, so I reached re­ally far and hit it pretty hard.”

“I have to keep telling the play­ers, ‘This is not a nor­mal thing what you’re see­ing and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing,’” Na­gro said. “I played Di­vi­sion I soft­ball [at St. Bon­aven­ture] and have been coach­ing nine years now (six at Di­vi­sion I, three at Di­vi­sion III) and I’ve never had a team­mate or player who could hit 19 home runs. There was a span where she was hit­ting one a game. What she did was in­cred­i­ble.”

Still, Heinze — who plays along­side cousin Lind­say Heinze, who bats in the No. 3 spot, one ahead of Rachel — doesn’t step into the bat­ter’s box look­ing for the long ball.

“No, I can’t think [home run]; I just try and stay calm and re­act and know I can beat that pitcher,” she said. “At this level pitch­ers don’t make too many mis­takes, but if they throw it over the plate, I def­i­nitely want one of those. And any pitch that they miss that’s my ben­e­fit.”

Heinze scored 44 runs and drove in 40 this sea­son, ac­count­ing for al­most half the 200 the Moun­taineers scored this year.

Heinze needed to have a break­out sea­son as The Mount got off to a hor­rid start this sea­son, los­ing its first 15 games on its way to a 15-35 mark (6-10 NEC). Seven­teen of its losses came by way of run-rule and much of that was due in large part to the team los­ing five play­ers to sea­son-end­ing in­juries while three oth­ers suf­fered ACL tears.

“We faced some ad­ver­sity as a team,” Heinze said, “but over­all I think we did a re­ally good job.”

But it’s the team — and not the ac­co­lades — that take prece­dent for Heinze.

“I didn’t even know I was close to the record un­til some­one told me,” she said, “and that’s OK be­cause if you start think­ing about those things, then that’s when [it gets hard].”

“She’s hum­ble,” Na­gro said. “She’s ex­actly the kind of player you want to coach be­cause the kids that chase that stuff never get it, and the kids who have no idea what records are there are the ones that are usu­ally break­ing them.”

Heinze is also valu­able to the team in the field as well. She plays plenty of out­field, as well as catcher, which Sewell asked her to play prior to her ju­nior year of high school.

“At first I didn’t think any­thing of it be­cause I had caught a lit­tle bit when I was lit­tle,” Heinze said. “At first my dad was like, ‘Oh my gosh you don’t know the first thing about catch­ing.’ I thought I didn’t have any­thing to lose, so I did it and I loved it. I still have a lot to work on, but I’m glad [Sewell] asked me to do that be­cause that’s one of my fa­vorite spots to play.”

“We didn’t have any­body as ath­letic as her or had a strong arm,” Sewell said, “and my phi­los­o­phy al­ways is to make your best ath­lete your catcher if you don’t have one. She was more than will­ing to go there and play that po­si­tion.”

But it’s not just at catcher that Heinze ex­cels.

“You can put her in any po­si­tion,” Na­gro said, “and she’s go­ing to play as well, or bet­ter than the starter you have there.”

“I do like that [I’m a util­ity player] be­cause if we need some­one to go some­where I hope I can fill that spot and help the team any way I can,” Heinze said. “I hope I can carry on se­nior year and just keep go­ing and noth­ing re­ally changes and I’m re­ally ex­cited be­cause we’re go­ing to have a great team.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF MOUNT ST. MARY’S UNIVER­SITY

Mount St Mary’s ju­nior Rachel Heinze, a St. Mary’s Ryken High School grad­u­ate from Char­lotte Hall, slugged 19 homers dur­ing the spring 2016 sea­son and now has a pro­gram record 26 through three sea­sons.

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