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.)

Game May Change, But Success Continues as Wilson Nears 800 Coaching Wins

By Pam Shebest
Special for

April 16, 2024

SOUTH HAVEN — No dugouts, no outfield fences, $25 bats.

Southwest CorridorThings have come a long way since Wilma Wilson took over the coaching reins at her alma mater 35 years ago.

“When I played, we didn’t have fences, we didn’t have dugouts; we had benches,” the South Haven softball coach said. “If you hit a home run, it had to be an in-the-park home run because there were hardly any parks that had any fences.

“It’s come a long way. Now you go to fields that are turfed. I love it. I’m glad to see the change for the girls and to see more emphasis on them playing and being involved.”

With a 791-406 record over her 35 years coaching the Rams softball team, Wilson is closing in on 800 career wins. Her current record puts her 19th among MHSAA coaches and just 16 victories behind former Monroe coach Vince Rossi’s 807 victories.

The Rams are 2-2 on the young season, but started off with a bang — actually three bangs over the right field fence in a one-run squeaker against Paw Paw on March 26.

Although the team has just 11 players, it is stacked with experience. Nine players saw action last season, and the five seniors have three or four years of varsity time.

Those seniors include twins Kamryn and Taylor Holland.

Against Paw Paw, Kamryn hit her first grand slam, a walk-off homer in a 12-11 win.

The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Broncos this season. “I knew it was going to be close as soon as I saw it,” the third baseman said. “I just kept running and started jumping up and down when I saw it go over.”

She was one of the veterans instrumental in the team’s postseason play last year, as South Haven reached its Division 2 District Final before losing 6-2 to Hamilton.

The Rams are focused on a longer run this year.

“A lot of the girls have been on the same team, and we’ve played together the past three years,” Kamryn said. “We know enough about each other and work good together. Everything clicks.”

Her sister, a shortstop/pitcher, agrees she and her teammates already have solid connections and said Wilson is a big reason.

“I love how much she pushes me,” Taylor Holland said. “She’s always there when you need her. She’ll take you aside if you need anything and always wants us to be our best. I just love that about her, because she loves us on and off the field.”

Wilson does more than work on softball with the players.

“(Last week) I sat down with the girls and had a good heart-to-heart, working through frustrations, trying to help kids maneuver through things in life, whether at school, at home, in the game,” she said. 

“That’s a huge part of coaching and what keeps me in it, knowing I can make a difference helping these kids manage life a little bit.”

Continuing the legacy

One of Wilson’s former players who is still very involved in the sport is her daughter, Marlee Wilson, in her first season as Western Michigan University’s head softball coach.

The Broncos won their 20th game of the season Sunday, making Wilson WMU’s winningest first-year softball coach. 

Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. “I coached her when she was small, coached her through high school, coached her in travel ball,” Wilma Wilson said. “She’s a very competitive kid, plays really hard. She has that same love for the game that I do, same drive.”

Marlee Wilson said one important thing she learned from her mom was to make softball fun.

“Practices in high school were always really fun,” she remembered. “It was the best part of the day. I couldn’t imagine it being any other way. (I want to) continue that and also develop the student athletes as people.

“There’s not a huge career in softball like there is in baseball and other sports, so you’re going to play four or five years in college then hopefully be prepared for life after sports, which (Mom) did a really good job with me.”

When she has a chance to talk with high school athletes, Marlee Wilson tells them to have fun and learn the basics of the game.

“That’s huge in high school,” she said. “At the college level, we can tell players who went through really good high school programs or travel programs that have those really good fundamentals or softball IQ.

“(Mom) does a really good job of developing players as a whole so when they get to that level, they understand that part of the game.”

Wilson played softball at WMU from 2014-18 and was a three-time academic all-Mid-American Conference honoree, a 2017 MAC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete and a four-time NFCA All-American Scholar.

Sparking like Sparky

Although Wilma Wilson calls him a “co-coach,” Dave Gumpert considers himself her assistant the last 11 years.

“I respect her many years as being a coach,” he said. “We talk things over, but she makes the final decisions.

“It’s been a really good relationship. She bounces things off me, I bounce things off her. It’s been a good run so far.”

Gumpert, who had a seven-year stint as a major league pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals, is the one who good-naturedly calls Wilson “Sparky” and not because of her sparkling personality.

Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. “She pretty much lets me run practice, and she walks around,” he said, smiling. “I played for (Tigers manager) Sparky Anderson and that’s what he did. He walked around the outfield, just talking to people and doing all the PR stuff while all the other coaches were getting the work done. So I like to tease her.”

Equipment has been another area of change during Wilson’s tenure.

“The equipment has gone crazy from the technology of bats,” she said. “A bat back in the day would be $20, $25. Now they’re $400. 

“If take my school budget and buy balls for the season for both our (varsity and JV) teams and a bat, I’ve used two-thirds of my budget.”

But South Haven is making those bats work. Senior centerfielder Myraql McGee said hitting is among the team’s most noticeable improvements from a year ago.

“Our whole lineup is good power hitters. It doesn’t matter where you are, our lineup is pretty stacked,” said McGee, who will continue her career next season at Missouri Valley College.

“Fielding-wise, we could work on a couple things, but we don’t make as many errors at routine plays as many other teams.”

Other seniors are Sam Beeney and Kayley Gorham, and juniors are Madi Dotson, Grace Strebeck and Molly Verseput. Sophomores are Addison Dekoning and Erin Bos, and they are joined by freshman Ly’Nique Cunningham.

Gumpert was with Wilson when the Rams reached but lost in the Division 2 Final in 2018 and sees some similarities between that and this year’s team.

“Offensively, we had a good team, but I would dare to say this team is as good offensively as that team was,” he said. “It’s going to boil down to how well our pitching does, how well our pitchers progress. If we have the pitching I think we can develop into, I think we’ll be competitive with anybody.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) South Haven softball coach Wilma Wilson, right, welcomes home Kamryn Holland after Holland’s grand slam March 26. (2) The Rams enjoy watching Marlee Wilson’s Western Michigan Broncos this season. (2) Wilson, right, joins daughter Marlee to form an accomplished mother-daughter coaching tree. (4) South Haven senior Myraql McGee settles in under a fly ball. (Top and WMU photos provided by Wilma Wilson, family photo by Pam Shebest, and McGee action photo provided by McGee.)