A tradition of success in any sport is hard to start. It’s even harder to maintain over time. Even tougher still is the ability to compete at the highest level of any sport. But St. Mary’s has established a level of excellence in softball, and specifically on the pitcher’s mound over the last 30 years.
When you come to St. Mary’s as a pitcher, the expectations of excellence follow. Four years ago, when Malissa Magee came to San Antonio as a freshman, few knew that she would not only follow in that tradition, but expand upon it. She recently finished her career with the Rattlers as one of the top pitchers in St. Mary’s and NCAA Division II softball history.
Like so many stories of success, it nearly didn’t happen. Magee, a native of Katy, was a lightly recruited player out of Katy’s Taylor High School. Though a strong pitcher, she didn’t dominate batters with a blazing fastball that many dominant pitchers possess. She had success using a variety of off-speed pitches that kept batters confused and off-balance.
Magee’s first choice was to follow her sister, Elizabeth, who was a standout at Sam Houston State University, a Division I school in Huntsville. However, SHSU coach Bob Brock’s preference was for a power pitcher and Magee wasn’t someone he was interested in.
St. Mary’s Head Coach Donna Fields found out about Malissa from an ‘inside’ source.
“Her mom (Ruth Magee) called me about Malissa,” Fields recalled. “She had called me about Elizabeth, her sister, four years before that. So when her mom called me about Malissa, I made a point to go and see her.”
However, Fields was also looking at another young pitcher at the same time as Magee: Brittany Kettinger (then Brittany Brown) from Azle. Both pitchers caught Fields’ eye and eventually she signed both to play for the Rattlers.
When Magee signed on to play with the Rattlers, she knew nothing of the Rattlers history, or their tradition of producing great pitchers. She would learn about it over time and come to understand and appreciate the history she was to become a part of.
The tradition started in 1983 with Leticia Morales-Bissaro, who earned All-American honors three times and led the Rattlers to their first national championship in 1986. Monique Fluellen joined the team in 1991 and became the only four-time All-American on the mound in school history. Then Kym Kling came to St. Mary’s in 2002 and earned the first of her three All-American honors while leading the Rattlers to their second national championship. That was what Magee was following: a tradition unsurpassed in NAIA and Division II softball. It was probably fortunate for Magee that she was blissfully ignorant of the tradition when she arrived on campus.
“I had no clue; I didn’t know about any of the All-Americans that came before me,” Magee said. “I was just having fun.”
While she wasn’t aware of what she was competing against from the past, she understood what her competition was in the present: fellow freshman Kettinger.
“To be honest, every pitcher I’ve ever met I didn’t like the first year because I’m so competitive,” Magee said. “We got along (Kettinger and Magee) great, but she was my competition.”
If Kettinger was pushing Magee, it was the Rattlers opponents who suffered the most from the battle. Magee had one of the best freshman seasons on the mound in school history, going 24-5 with a 1.20 ERA, seven shutouts and three saves. She was named Heartland Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-American. With a power-packed lineup that included All-Americans Liz Beyer, Roni Garcia, Kirstin Simmons giving Magee the run support she needed, the Rattlers advanced to the College World Series for the third straight year.
It was on a road trip against Texas A&M University-Kingsville, who at the time was one of the teams competing with the Rattlers for supremacy in the South Central Region, when Fields realized what she had in Magee.
“She just dominated them for seven innings,” Field said. “I went ahead and started her again in the second game and she got through four innings before I brought in Brittany. She told me after the game, she said ‘If you have to have me pitch 14 innings I want to be able to do that’. That is the type of drive Mal had.”
That drive carried over to 2006 when Magee and Kettinger faced more pressure to lead a team that graduated several of its offensive stars from the 2005 College World Series team. Magee was again dominant, going 29-11 with eight shutouts and a 1.34 ERA. Again she was named Heartland Conference Pitcher of the Year.
Her junior year she continued her improvement, winning 30 games for the first time and posting the second lowest ERA for a single season in school history at 0.75. Her third straight Heartland Conference Pitcher of the Year award was a foregone conclusion, as was her second All-American honor. With her leading the way, the Rattlers advanced to the South Central Region Championship game.
This past season the Rattlers rode Magee’s arm to the second highest win total in school history: 53. They also earned their eighth straight berth in the NCAA South Central Regional. Magee had her best season as a Rattler, going 36-8 with a 1.22 ERA, 18 shutouts and 336 strikeouts. She set school single season records for wins, shutouts and strikeouts and ranked among the national leaders in those categories as well.
Ask Magee for her favorite memory of that year and she doesn’t hesitate. Late in the season the Rattlers were still locked in a tight battle with St. Edward’s University for the Heartland Conference lead. The two met on the field for the first time on April 4 at Rattler Field and split the doubleheader. The next day they headed north to Austin for a doubleheader that would likely crown the conference champion. Fields decided to throw Magee in both games, something that she rarely asked Magee to do. The results were spectacular. Magee tossed back-to-back one-hit shutouts in a pair of 1-0 wins that essentially clinched the title for St. Mary’s.
“Honestly my favorite day of softball was playing St. Edward’s this year,” Magee said. “I was so focused that day. I remember the end of that day everyone was celebrating, but I was just so mentally exhausted. I just couldn’t switch over from being serious to celebrating at first.”
Magee finished her career not only as one of the elite pitchers in St. Mary’s history, but in NCAA Division II history. She had a career record of 119-34 with 1.13 ERA, 111 complete games, 48 shutouts and 1061 strikeouts in 994.0 innings of work. In NCAA Division II history she is fifth in game pitched (179), sixth in innings pitched, seventh in victories, eighth in strikeouts, 15th in shutouts and 15th in complete games.
While she may have come to St. Mary’s without knowledge of the traditions at the school, she walks away aware of not only that, but her part in continuing it.
“I feel lucky to have been a part of the tradition here,” Magee said. “I’ve been happy to help that tradition grow. I’ll never forget my time at St. Mary’s.”
Malissa Magee completed her athletic eligibility at the end of the 2007-2008 season. This summer she is working as an intern and will graduate in the fall with her degree in corporate finance after which she plans to enter graduate school.