Anytime a player can earn All-State recognition to end his or her career, it’s pretty special.
But when a student-athlete earns said honors during the last two seasons of his or her high school athletic days, it speaks volumes to not only how talented the player really is, but how hard he or she works.
Those facts are certainly the case for Minford’s Mary Pica. The middle-of-the-order and third base standout, who has signed with the Rio Grande softball program en route to continuing her athletic career, earned Second-Team All-OHSFSCA (Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association) honors in 2017 en route to repeating her All-State accolades from the year prior.
For Pica, however, the honors do not come without the help of her friends and teammates, each of whom played key factors in leading Minford to a runner-up finish in SOC II play and a Division III District Final appearance.
“I’m honored that people think of me that way (as an All-State performer), but I have to thank my team for helping me get to the place that I am where people were able to notice what each of us, as individuals, were doing,” Pica said. “As a result, I believe that, in turn, helped the rest of the team get noticed, as well. It was really cool to be a part of. “It was a good experience at Minford, and I had a really good time with my teammates this year.”
Over the duration of her career, Pica has not only proven herself as a versatile three-sport athlete — as the senior proved to be a vital member not only on the diamond, but the volleyball and basketball courts, as well — but as a successful product in all three sports.
During her final two years on the volleyball court, Pica collected 150 kills, 54 digs, 33 aces, 26 blocks, and 23 assists while helping Minford improve from a 7-16 overall mark, and a 3-13 SOC II record in 2015-16, to a 13-9 record and a solid 7-7 conference record in 2016-17. That was followed up by a strong basketball campaign where the senior served as a strong low post option on a Lady Falcons unit that collected an 18-6 record in 2016-17 behind Pica’s energy and strong play on the boards.
However, the best for Pica was yet to come.
After signing with Rio Grande before the softball season started, Pica, along with the help of Ariel Kingery, Zoe Doll, Brittani Wolfenbarker, and Hannah Tolle, among others, proceeded to lead Minford to a staggering 15 consecutive wins to start the year en route to a 19-2 regular season mark. The Lady Falcons’ only pair of losses, you ask? A pair of defeats to Wheelersburg, who won the Division III State Championship in 2016 and finished as the Division III runner-ups this past year.
A big reason for that success was Minford’s potency at the plate. The Lady Falcons scored at least 10 runs or more in 18 of their 24 contests (or 72 percent of their affairs), and scored 13 or more runs in 11 of those contests, behind a lineup that featured Emily Shoemaker, Wolfenbarker, Pica, Kingery, and Doll as the unit’s one-through-five hole hitters, and the six-through-nine hitters, which included Tolle, Madison Sifford, Marissa Watters, and Melanie Fuhrmann, all brought a well-balanced blend of power and speed that helped turn the lineup over.
“We all backed each other up,” Pica said of the success that Minford had during this past softball season. “If we all had a bad day, one of our teammates would be there to produce offensively and get the lineup rolling. It was pretty great to have the lineup that we had this past year.”
In the postseason, the potent lineup continued to pour on the runs. In fact, behind Pica’s play at the three-hole, the Lady Falcons outscored Chesapeake and New Lexington by a combined total of 26-4 to advance to the Division III District Finals — a long-awaited appearance for Preston Messer’s squad.
“It’s pretty awesome to accomplish what we did,” Pica said. “That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We didn’t just want to win a sectional title; we wanted to be right in the hunt for a district championship, too. I’m really proud of all of my teammates because they played great this year, and I hope that they have a great season next year, as well. I believe that they’ll go far in the tournament.”
Even though Minford’s journey eventually ended against Westfall by a 5-2 tally, the contest, and the entire postseason run, showed Pica what the future holds for the younger Lady Falcons.
“Westfall always proves to be really good competition for us,” Pica said. “I think that game showed the kind of talent that’s going to come through Minford over the next several years. It was pretty close between Wheelersburg, Westfall, and us this year.”
For Pica, it’s on to Rio Grande, where the freshman will be reunited with All-River States Conference and NAIA honoree Kelsey Conkey, who starred as the team’s ace in the circle. There, Pica hopes that the duo from Minford can create some of the same magic that’s been seen over the last two seasons, which include an 88-19 record, two RSC Championships, and two NAIA Regional berths.
“It’s good to join them,” Pica said. “I hope that we continue the great runs that Rio Grande has put together the past couple of years (under Chris Hammond). Kelsey has done great since she’s been there, and to get an opportunity to play with a former teammate and alongside a group of excellent players is a great way to cap off a senior year that’s been fantastic for me, personally.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @ColleyKevin7