Heading to Iowa City this weekend to face BR-126 Iowa, head coach Kim Schuette and the BR-63 Purdue softball team will be looking to bounce back from a three-game slide that opened up their Big Ten Conference play this past week.
The Boilermakers are coming off a 2015 season having advanced to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, and coach Schuette returns twelve letter-winners, including seven position players, and two pitchers – one of those pitchers is senior Lilly Fecho.
Now in her third season at the helm of the Purdue bench, Schutte knew when she took over the reigns the asset she had in the circle. “I remembered Fecho from recruiting her in high school/travel ball and was excited to work with her ability, talent and potential”, she said of her then sophomore phenom. She went on to add “I couldn’t wait to work with her as a pitching coach first on the power aspect and some mechanics and then on the fun stuff – strategy, mental toughness, presence. I thought we had a pitcher on our staff in Lilly Fecho that had great potential to do big things.”
And BIG things she did!
Fecho is coming off the fourth Big Ten Pitcher of the Week accolade of her career, and currently ranks in the top 10 in four categories on the NCAA Division I active career leaders lists. With 748.1 innings pitched and 78 complete games, the southpaw ranks fourth overall in both categories. Her 111 games started ranks fifth, while the 745 batters she’s fanned comes in sixth.
With eight strikeouts in both the Boilermakers 3-0 shutout over BR-91 New Mexico and 5-1 win over BR-146 Florida Gulf Coast, Fecho matched Suzie Rzegocki’s Purdue record of 728 career strikeouts. It was in the second inning of the 1-0 shutout victory over BR-84 Iowa State that the record fell, and she went on the fan three more Cyclones to finish the game with a 732 career total – now moving the bar higher and higher with each game.
— Purdue Softball (@PurdueSoftball) March 19, 2016
Posting an impressive 0.33 ERA on the week, she fanned 20 hitters in 21 innings in the circle en route to her 16th career shutout to move into Purdue’s fifth spot all-time – earning her the second BTPOW honor of the season.
On the season, Fecho ranks ninth nationally in strikeouts (147), 15th in victories (13), 17th in shutouts (4), 37th in strikeouts per seven innings (8.1) and 48th in ERA (1.66).
So far for her career, Fecho has now struck out five or more batters in 73 games – 15 alone in 2016. In her first three seasons. She has accounted for at least 40 percent of Purdue’s innings in the circle, and in her junior season was named team MVP – breaking the Boilermaker records for complete game one-hitters with five, and strikeouts with 295.
Schutte is focused on the season at hand, but there is hope that with the leadership from her senior hurler, the younger members of the pitching staff can gain from her success. “Fecho’s work ethic in the bullpen and high expectations for pitch location during a pitching workout are and will continue to rub off on our staff,” Schutte continued, “any time an older or experienced player can talk the game with a younger or less experienced player – both players can learn from each other.”
With all her success, Lilly stresses the balance necessary for younger players to make certain they enjoy the ride. I took the opportunity to ask her what advice she’d tell a younger ballplayer with dreams of playing at the collegiate level?
“My advice includes a few areas," Lilly offered up. "First, I would tell them that the game isn't always easy, but it should be fun! Even the best hitters strike out and the best pitchers get home runs hit off of them. Second, make time to go throw the ball around with your friends or your parents, and make time to just go have fun with your friends. If you are interested in playing in college, that doesn't mean that you have to practice 24/7, but making sure that you devote time to making yourself better is a big step. On the other hand, enjoying the time with your friends and family is also extremely important, so remember that balance.”
Lilly also echoes the advice many experts are telling parents and players, “Lastly, I think that they should play as many sports as they want. When you are 12, you still have so much time until you go to college, so go play basketball, volleyball, run cross country, do whatever you want because all of those sports will make you better at softball in some way.”
With just over half the season in the books, it will be interesting to watch where Fecho's numbers finish up in the record books – as she closes the book on her collegiate career as of one of the Big Ten’s top pitchers.
As for Lilly’s plans after she’s done on the field for Purdue, she told me “I absolutely love softball, and this game has helped me grow in ways that I couldn't imagine. Time will tell what happens in the coming months regarding my softball plans.”