Heinze caps sterling season
Former Knight erupts at Mount St. Mar y’s
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.”
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.