WINDSOR — There were no secrets about what waited for Windsor/Stewardson-Strasburg during an early-April tournament in on the campus of Lindenwood-Belleville.
The Hatchets had a Saturday afternoon date with Gorveville: The team WSS had beaten some nine months earlier in the Class 1A state championship game. It was the same team that was three months away from going on to win the Class 1A state championship — the exact prize that WSS had its eyes on capturing for the second consecutive season.
An unexpected caveat turned up the night before the game: Co-ace Calla Roney was injured and missed what ended up being about a month with a knee injury. That meant the other half of the Hatchets' dynamic ace duo, Megan Schlechte, would get the ball against a team that had every intent to spoil the perfect start to the Hatchets' season.
Schlechte, though, is no rookie in the circle. She's been an integral part of WSS' success during her four-year athletic career and had a penchant for making her own teammates "look stupid" at times in practice when offering at her devastating drop ball. She took the ball against Goreville and threw seven innings, allowing five hits, one earned run and striking out six batters to lead the Hatchets to a 2-1 win.
That game wasn't her jumping-off point in the season, but it was a monumental win on her way to a 20-2 pitching record in 119.2 innings with a 0.936 ERA, and a 133:21 strikeout to walk ratio. She hit .469 with three home runs, 19 extra base hits and 47 RBI for WSS on the way to a Class 1A super-sectional, winning the Herald & Review Area Softball Player of the Year award. She's also a two-time Area Volleyball Player of the Year.
“With Calla out I really had to push myself a lot harder because I was pitching more of the tougher games," Schlechte said. "That made me better overall."
Schlechte throws with pin-point accuracy. If assistant coach Quinn Bennett calls for a pair of pitches just outside to get the hitter to chase out of the zone, Schlechte delivers on point. She throws faster than it looks, and has a drop ball and change-up that give hitters fits.
In the time with Roney sidelined, Schlechte and freshman Karlie Bean took over in the circle. In eight appearances with Roney sidelined, Schlechte pitched 43.2 innings, allowing 25 hits, four earned runs and struck out 52 batters. She had wins against Goreville, Charleston, Altamont and Effingham St. Anthony.
“Before Calla got hurt, it would be hard to say on any given day which one was the best pitcher, and Bean was right there," WSS coach Craig Moffett said. “Once Calla went out, Megan’s experience and her ability to throw multiple pitches at multiple speeds against some of the real good lineups we’ve seen, it was a good feeling to have her out there in the circle."
All of this came after a winter where she wasn't throwing particularly well in club ball. She didn't quite expect the success she had when the spring rolled around.
There's a feeling of calm when Schlechte steps in to pitch. She's relying, in part, on her defense behind her. But pitching comes with the ability to take control of a game. She doesn't have that in her other sports. The best damage she can do in volleyball is contingent upon where a set goes. Basketball is more team-reliant than that. Schlechte knows that without a strong defense behind her that she's in trouble.
“It feels like you’re in control and the whole game is really up to you," Schlechte said. "Obviously the defense can do really good behind you, but you know that you have to do well."
She's a tireless worker at her craft: All three of them. That desire to be perfect is a give and take. She was frustrated in the early parts of the season, not hitting the way that she knew she could. Still, it was good by most softball standards. In her first seven games of the season, for example, she was 9-of-19 with five RBI and 11 runs scored. It wasn't the start she had hoped. She went to hitting coaches to find answers.
Her first home run didn't come until April 13.
“I was frustrated because last year I hit quite a few," she said. "I started off hitting not very well this year, but then at the end I was a lot more consistent."
Schlechte is wrapping up her softball-playing career playing for Bennett's summer team, Mattoon COBRA. Then it's off to volleyball, a sport most people associate her with — wrongly.
“I feel like sometimes maybe she can fly under the radar a little bit," Moffett said.
She will play volleyball at Lewis University next season, and wanted to add softball to the mix. However, no one, she was informed, has been a multi-sport athlete there while also going to nursing school.
“Most people think I just care about volleyball. That’s not the case," she said.