April 22, 2009
In her first season at Birmingham-Southern College, Tori Harris helped the softball program reach new heights.
Birmingham-Southern ended its season Sunday with the best record in school history.
Birmingham-Southern, ranked No. 17 nationally, swept a doubleheader from Hendrix College to finish the season 32-5 for an .865 winning percentage.
Harris, a 2006 graduate of New Hope High School, contributed to that success as a junior pitcher and third baseman.
"The season was great," Harris said. "We came out really strong in the beginning and kind of carried it through the season. I think our hard work paid off. We worked really hard in the fall. I just think the time we spent working really paid off."
Birmingham-Southern, which is a member of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, is ineligible for the postseason after moving from NCAA Division I to Division III this season.
Harris was disappointed Birmingham Southern was unable to play in the postseason. At New Hope High, she played on six consecutive Class 4A championship teams.
"I think we would have competed well," Harris said. "I think we would have done really well in the postseason. We played a lot of teams in our conference and did really well against teams that are in the playoffs."
Harris played in all 37 games (35 starts) and batted .347 with eight doubles, four home runs and 27 RBIs.
On the mound, she led the team with a 1.03 ERA and she had a 7-2 record. She started nine games and went the distance seven times. She pitched in relief three times with one save.
It was Harris'' first season at Birmingham-Southern after transferring from Bevill State Community College in Fayette, Ala.
"(Harris) had a lot to do with (the team''s success)," Birmingham-Southern coach Stephanie VanBrakle said. "We''re looking for athletes we can mold, who want to become better, who want to be good, and who want to play for a good team, and Tori fits all of that."
Harris chose Birmingham-Southern despite not getting a scholarship. Division III schools don''t offer scholarships.
Harris wants to become a teacher and she chose Birmingham-Southern because of its education program. She has received academic scholarship money and financial grants to help pay for her education.
Harris said she also chose Birmingham-Southern because she wanted to play for VanBrakle, who pitched at the University of Alabama from 2003-06 and played on three teams that advanced to the College World Series.
"I never really had a strong pitching coach before," Harris said. "I never had anyone teach me pitches. I came to Southern throwing a fastball and dropball and I had an OK changeup. Stephanie has me throwing screws and curves, which I never threw before. I knew Stephanie would really show me a lot I didn''t know about pitching."
Harris led the pitching staff in ERA, games in relief, games finished (three), and lowest opposing batting average (.158).
VanBrakle was pleased with how Harris learned to throw a screwball and curveball. She will continue to work with her to make her a more effective pitcher next season.
"She almost has all of her pitches down like she''s got her drop down," VanBrakle said. "We''re going to start working on a riseball. We''ll get that into the mix to kind of complete her. I think if she has a riseball, that will set up her drop that much better. She works really hard, and that makes it easier for us to teach her."
Harris also contributed defensively at third base.
"She never played third base before, I don''t think, before she came here and she played a great third base," VanBrakle said. "That''s what we needed. I told her I was going to put her on one of the corners, wherever we needed her the most. Third base was it and she stepped into the role and never once complained. She wanted to get better at that position and she worked really, really hard to do that."
Harris is following in the steps of her mother, Connie, by playing softball. Her mother played at Mississippi State in 1985 and 1986 before transferring to Mississippi University for Women when MSU dropped softball.