Rich pitches in at Worcester State

For the first time in more than 10 years, Meghan Rich is surrounded by unfamiliar faces on the softball diamond.

Her former teammates, starting at age 8 with the Bay State Bandits through four years at Chelmsford High — are no longer alongside.

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Neither is her father, Bruce , who called her pitches as the varsity softball coach at Chelmsford High the past four seasons, helping her pile up 40-plus wins and four straight trips to the Division 1 North tournament.

Now a freshman at Worcester State University, Rich has carved out a role in the Lancers’ rotation at the start of the season.

“In high school, the team was cliquey and we were best friends, and I was worried it wouldn’t be the same,” Rich said. “But now we’re like a family again. I’m just trying to adjust.”

More than halfway through her freshman campaign, she has adjusted just fine.

With a team-best 9-5 record and a 1.62 earned run average, Rich has emerged as the ace of the Lancers’ pitching staff. She registered her third straight win Tuesday against Fitchburg State and had not surrendered a run in her last 18 innings.

Rich’s string of dominance fueled a six-game winning streak, putting Worcester State (19-14, 8-4) in contention for one of two first-round byes in the MASCAC tournament.

The Lancers have clinched a spot in the conference tournament, and trail only Salem State (18-10, 7-3) and Bridgewater State (17-13, 7-3) in the standings.

“[Rich] has been a pleasant surprise,” Worcester State coach Jennifer Kapenas said.

“You never know how a freshman athlete will adjust with significant playing time. She doesn’t let anything bother her. She just goes to business. We also have an incredibly talented defense, so we’re getting ground balls and making the outs helps any pitcher, but especially a freshman pitcher.”

Rich is first to admit she will not try to whip pitches past opposing batters.

Instead, she has crafted an intricate repertoire of junk-ball pitches, including a changeup, a screwball, a drop ball, a rise ball and a curveball, which is her go-to pitch.

Although her father no longer calls her pitches, Rich said she has connected well with junior catcher, Hillary Hart and pitching coach Michaella Mahoney , who pitched at Shrewsbury High.

“[Mahoney and Hart] have gotten to know me really quickly. What has really helped this season is the pitch selection,” Rich said. “[Hart] is calling every pitch, and she knows what’s on, what’s off, and she knows my emotions. She calls the same type of game my dad used to call.”

On the weekends, when she often pitches the second game of a doubleheader, her father enjoys watching her compete, but from a different vantage, that of a parent and spectator.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” he said. “We’re Worcester State fans now. It’s fun to watch someone else like her pitching coach work with her, and work with a different catcher and different teammates. It’s just a whole new chemistry. Her coach now does a better job in getting more out of Meghan.”

Bruce Rich said his daughter often calls him to talk about the pitches she is throwing, but the conversations also have a new element.

“We talk more about her attitude and going at certain batters, and maintaining composure,” he said.

According to Kapenas, Rich’s composure is her greatest asset.

“She’ll give up a triple and you would not know at all,” Kapenas said. “She doesn’t let anything bother her. She’s just a focused kid and takes everything in stride. You need that poise on the mound and it’s only going to get better from here.”

Here and there

The Massachusetts High School Football Coaches Association will induct five coaches into its Hall of Fame at its annual awards dinner Sunday at Lantana’s in Randolph, including Ed Nizwantowski (Peabody), Steve Hayden (Pentucket Regional), and Rich Cullen (Malden). . . . Taylor Alvarado of Danvers shot 75-78—153, tying for sixth place, to help the Salem State golf team to a runner-up finish at the 2013 Johnson & Wales Wildcat Spring Invitational Monday in Providence. Billerica’s Stephen Parise also earned a top-20 finish for the Vikings, with an 81-78. Salem State will compete in the MASCAC Championship Tuesday at the Blackstone Country Club in Sutton. . . . Mikaela Carney , who helped North Reading to an MIAA softball state championship in 2007, is putting together a terrific senior year, on and off the field, at Curry College. The team captain, who has made 21 total starts (catcher/outfield) is batting .313 with 13 runs batted in and six runs scored, all while maintaining a 3.46 GPA in the nursing program.