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062217Day

It wasn't handed to her, but after a few years Morgan Day made herself into a pitcher that blew teams away and earned a chance to pitch at Illinois State next season.

TUSCOLA – Morgan Day itched to make her way to the mound.

It wasn’t easy. Softball is a sport that can be dominated with one great pitcher, and Day was a late bloomer physically. She couldn’t throw as hard, and she was either playing in the softball-rich town of Tuscola or on travel teams with great pitchers.

So coming into high school and even her freshman year, Day bided her time in the outfield.

Before her sophomore year, an opportunity popped up. It wasn’t a travel team and it wasn’t even the high school team, but it was a chance to stand in the circle and fire away in a game setting – pitching in the rec league.

Day figured, why not? It was a chance for reps.

”I wasn’t busy, this was an opportunity to get better,” Day said, “It’s game experience, it’s a confidence booster.”

It helped propel her to a record-smashing season at Tuscola.

Day fired off two-hitters, one-hitters and no-hitters almost daily, helping guide Tuscola to 27 straight wins to start before 31 total. Etching her name in the Warriors record books for innings pitched (180 2/3), strikeouts (280) and wins (27), Day sealed the case for the H&R Area Softball Player of the Year.

It took a while to get there.

Before she hit 65 mph with her fastball, before tinkering with a devastating riseball this past season, and before posting back-to-back seasons of hitting .500 at the plate, Day fell in love with the sport at an early age.

“I told my mom I wanted to play on the Tuscola Force travel team and she thought I was crazy,” Day said. “Because all I ever did was play in the dirt and chase butterflies in the outfield. So I started playing when I was 9 and I immediately loved playing it.”

Right away, you could say the sport didn’t quite love Day back. She wanted to pitch, but lacked the oomph of the other girls who had matured. Day was playing a waiting game, looking for opportunities to arise so when the muscle was there, she would be ready.

There were times where frustration kicked in, but mostly the happy-go-lucky attitude prevailed.

“Morgan was always at the back of the line, but she never let anyone tell her any different,” Tuscola coach Lenny Sementi said.

The chance came after freshman year when the rec league had an opening. Day jumped at the opportunity to catch up to those her age.

“I know for most girls, they started pitching when they were 8 and when they were 10,” said Day, who started picking it up at 12. “They’ve been pitching forever. For me, it’s not necessarily how early I started, it’s how bad I wanted it.”

Near the beginning of the sophomore season for Tuscola, there was a game when Warriors were in an early hole. Sementi figured this would be the right time to test his young pitcher.

He had seen a physical transformation, the ability to power through 14 pullups and also someone who fired away just happy to deliver from the circle.

“That’s the biggest change – she built herself,” Sementi said. “That’s her biggest attribute is that she built herself.

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“Her sophomore year, she went at it like a little kid on Christmas. She never thought about it, she just threw it.”

In her junior season, Day provided an incredible punch at the plate. She hit .519, launching one home run after another with the rest of the Warriors.

In the circle, there was a little more responsibility as the No. 2 pitcher. Day went 14-1 with a 1.21 ERA, but Sementi saw the pressure she put herself under.

“Expectations were set and Morgan was a little tense at times,” he said. “She struggled with the umpire, shake her head and do stuff.”

So after the physical overhaul a year earlier, Day was adamant about locking in her mindset for her senior year. Part of that was knowing the responsibility as the No. 1 pitcher day in and day out, but with part of it came leadership for younger players.

“We did graduate a lot of players, and I knew in my freshmen season, I looked up to a lot of the players like Erin Walker to see what Tuscola softball is all about and what traditions we carry here and to be that example for those freshmen," Day said.

She delivered. Not only did she keep up her numbers at the plate -- .521 batting average, 14 doubles, 4 triples and 10 homers – few in the state were as reliable as she was pitching.

It wasn’t just the struggling teams she put away with ease – she threw a two-hitter against eventual 2A runner-up St. Joseph-Ogden.

Developing her go-to pitch of a riseball was a major factor. The year before, Day tried to overpower with her fastball, but by the start of her senior season she felt comfortable throwing the riseball, curveball, changeup and dropball as well.

Sementi saw her accuracy jump, hitting her fastball spot 80 to 85 percent of the time. He saw the “bulldog” come out as well.

“This year, she took over what Maddie (Meinhold) did last year,” he said. “She bulldogged the mound.

“That's all we ever talked about was bulldogging the mound. Whenever you give up a hit or there's an error behind you or there's a mistake, she didn't let it bother her this year. She just focused. She'd turn around and say, we'll get this.”

There were few moments when Tuscola faced adversity – that happens when you start a season with 27 straight wins. But after that streak came two straight losses, Day tapped into that bulldog mentality off the field and said she took it upon herself to cheer her teammates back up.

Tuscola fell short of a regional title, but it took a massive effort for that to happen. Day threw a five-hitter against Casey-Westfield, striking out 11 in the 2-1 loss.

For most, this is where the journey ends, after high school. Some get to play at the next level, many changing spots on the field. Day, who waited and waited for a chance to pitch, will have another opportunity to pitch Division I at Illinois State.

“A lot of people told me I couldn’t do it. I really just kept pushing through, kept practicing and it’s a dream come true for me,” she said.

And though she’s moving on, what’s she’s left isn’t.

Yes, there’s the powerful bat and devastating riseball that younger players can point to, but there’s a legacy left of bucking the conventional means of achieving what you want.

If that means jumping at the opportunity to pitch in the rec league, well, you pitch in the rec league.

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adow@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6978

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for the Herald & Review.

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