Kestrels' Ace Off to Near-Perfect Encore

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

May 12, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half 

MONROE – Monroe St. Mary Catholic Central junior pitcher Meghan Beaubien is a self-proclaimed perfectionist playing in a sport that rarely sees perfection.

She comes close enough. Actually, she is such an outstanding softball pitcher that she recently was named the No. 5 high school softball player of the 2017 graduating class in the country by one publication, and last year she was the Gatorade state Softball Player of the Year for Michigan.

Beaubien, who stands 5 feet, 8 inches tall, capped her sophomore season by leading SMCC to the Division 3 championship. She threw her 10th no-hitter of the season in the Semifinal against Pinconning, and then flirted with a perfect game before settling for a one-hitter in the title game. She also had a two-run home run in the finale – a 2-0 victory.

The numbers are eye-popping:

As a freshman, Beaubien was 19-9 with a 0.69 ERA and 254 strikeouts.

As a sophomore, she was 33-3 with a 0.31 ERA and 456 strikeouts.

So far this year, Beaubien is 9-0 with a 0.51 ERA and 141 strikeouts.

Beaubien, however, is not consumed with the numbers. She doesn’t even know them.

“I don’t look at my numbers,” she said. “Maybe I’ll look at them at the end of the year.”

She also knows the expectations that come with such numbers.

“I’m a bit of a perfectionist myself in school and in sports,” she said. “There is no way you can be perfect, so you just have to forget what other people expect you to do and just go out there and do what you’re trying to do one pitch at a time.”

Bread-and-butter pitch

Beaubien, obviously, isn’t a typical high school softball pitcher. However, she isn’t even a typical elite high school softball pitcher. Although she throws hard, the change-up is her go-to pitch, and she is left-handed.

“It is a predominantly right-handed pitching game,” SMCC softball coach John Morningstar said. “You don’t see a lot of lefties, and when you bring the speed that she brings it at – even to right-handed hitters – it’s still very deceptive. She can go in and out and up, and then you have the change-up, so coming from the left side is a look that you don’t see very often. You can’t create that.”

Beaubien’s parents, Jason and Kimberly, recognized her talent at an early age and encouraged her to become more than just a hard thrower.

“She started playing grade-school ball, and I knew then that she had talent, so I started getting her to the right coaches,” Jason Beaubien said. “She had a lot of good pitching coaches along the way, but it all started with speed, which is how it all starts.

“As things progressed, speed is the prerequisite to all of the other things you have to do to become at a high level. Then the movement and changing speeds comes into it. She hit 65 on the radar gun when she was 13, and I knew at that point that she really needed to have some off-speed pitch to complement the other parts of her game.”

To throw the change-up effectively, a pitcher has to deceive the batter into thinking the pitch will be thrown harder. That is a science all in itself.

“Her change-up is one of the best I’ve ever seen, particularly because you don’t know it’s coming,” Morningstar said. “It is coming from the left side, the arm speed never changes, the mechanics never change.

“A lot of kids can throw hard, but when you can throw hard and have that mix of speed and the command, which she has, that’s special.”

Beaubien was asked which was more fun, overpowering a batter with heat or fooling them with the change-up. She thought about it a minute and said, “I have fun with the change-up.”

“I probably started working with that in seventh or eighth grade, and in the summer after my freshman year it got good, but it really got to where it’s at now after my sophomore year,” she said. “The whole point of a change-up is to make the batter expect something hard and throw something not hard. You have to be able to sell it and make your motion look like you’re going to throw it hard.

“Also, if you release it the right way and you get good downspin on it, the ball is going to drop off the table, too.”

Hitting counts, too

Because Beaubien is such an outstanding pitcher, it is easy to think of her as just a pitcher. But she can hit, too, as she showed last year with the two-run homer in the championship game.

Last year, she hit .430 with three home runs, 29 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .640.

However, hitting did not come as naturally to her as pitching did.

“At the plate, I used to just be a slapper, and I never used to swing away,” she said. “I think it’s because I focused a lot more on my pitching, and now I focus on my hitting as well. I want to be equally recognized as both a hitter and a pitcher because I don’t want to be a one-dimensional player.

“I want to be able to help our team out as many ways as I can.”

It also helps her relate to stepping into the batter’s box to face an above-average pitcher and the mental approach that goes with it.

“I can tell with individual hitters what their attitude is by their body language, how they carry themselves and how they look when they step into the box,” she said. “I’ve been there, I’m a hitter, too, and sometimes I go in confident that I’m going to get a hit off a pitcher and sometimes you are kind of thinking, ‘Oh gosh, I hope I don’t strike out.’

“You can tell when a hitter is not feeling confident or they are a little intimated. Then you know, ‘OK, I’m coming right at this person.’ ”

Michigan all the way

Beaubien had never thrown a pitch as a high school pitcher when she gave a verbal agreement to accept a scholarship to play at the University of Michigan. She received her offer letter on the field at Michigan Stadium prior to the Ohio State football game on Nov. 30, 2013.

“That was really cool,” Jason Beaubien said. “Michigan came up short by a point that day, but she didn’t. That was a very exciting time for her mother and me.”

Michigan had always been her first choice, so the decision was an easy one for her, but there was still a process.

“A lot of the recruiting process is hard,” she said. “I was 14, and it’s hard to make that big of a decision about your life at that point. A lot of schools will give you deadlines when they offer scholarships, and I didn’t have any schools tell me, ‘You need to decide by this date.’ I didn’t have any of that, thankfully.

“That was the age that the pitchers I knew were committing, so I knew I had to make a decision. I visited enough schools and knew what I wanted, so the decision was easy for me.”

Beaubien is an outstanding student – again with eye-popping numbers. Her GPA is 4.7, and she scored a 34 on her ACT. So her desire to find a school with top-notch academics as well as a top-notch softball program fit perfectly with Michigan, and Michigan wanted her.

“There is a stereotype that if you are a really good athlete, then you are not going to be smart in school,” she said. “I want to be both. I want to be successful in school and in softball.

“My parents taught me at a young age that my grades come first, and that is what will get you through the rest of your life, so I’ve always put a lot of emphasis on being successful in school. I don’t let that slide.”

The work in the classroom has attracted attention from some of the finest colleges in the nation.

“She is probably most proud of her grades,” Jason Beaubien said. “She is getting letters from Harvard and Princeton and all the Ivy League schools, which would be awesome, and she would love to go to those schools, but she also loves softball.

“She has the best of both worlds at Michigan.”

Staying grounded

The summer travel leagues offer players a chance to play at a different level and in different surroundings. Last summer, Beaubien played on a team based in Chicago, leaving her a five-hour, one-way trip to the games.

The Bandits 16 and under team lost its first game in the Premier Girls Fastpitch (PGF) Nationals before winning 10 games in a row to get into the championship game in the double-elimination tournament. The Bandits lost 1-0, but she finished the tournament with a 7-2 record and a 1.12 ERA with 75 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings.

Beaubien handled all of the pressure quite well, and her father said she might have handled it better than he did.

“It was stressful,” he said. “We were travelling and there were a lot of showcases in the fall, and it’s tough. There were times when she was out there competing with 25 coaches behind the fence all clocking her and watching her.

“That’s a lot of pressure to put on any kid in that spot, and that’s just how it is. She has competed under pressure situations that I would wilt under. I can barely watch, and she’s out there competing and executing. It’s cool to watch and cool to see.”

The kind of success that Beaubien has enjoyed easily could go to the head of a teenager, but she has showed maturity and leadership beyond her years. After a game this week, she joined the rest of the team raking the infield.

That sort of thing is not something that happens by accident with Morningstar.

“The biggest thing I’ve ever learned is that you use the team as the catalyst and revert everything back to the team,” he said. “I set a premise that nobody is above the team, and she does a very good job as far as leadership is concerned and taking it seriously.

“She leads by example and works hard and shows the rest of the girls what it takes to compete at the next level. She’s a fun kid to coach.”

Beaubien is talented and successful on the field and in the classroom. And as focused as she is, there is little time for other activities. She still is able to find time for other things.

“When she does have some free time, she just wants to relax,” Jason Beaubien said. “Like any kid, she will watch Netflix or hang out with her friends. She’s a big Star Wars geek – she likes that.”

She also said she enjoys watching baseball, and she watches the Detroit Tigers on television as much as possible.

It hasn’t all been easy, either. She did lose nine games as a freshman, even though her numbers were fantastic.

“There are days when she struggles, but her struggle is someone else’s best game,” Morningstar said. “She picks the team up and puts it on her back when she wants to, and that’s what you want out of a leader.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Meghan Beaubien launches a pitch; she has a combined 851 strikeouts over her first three high school seasons. (Middle) Beaubien also is a strong hitter and had a home run in last season's Division 3 championship game. (Photos courtesy of the Beaubien family.)