Aug. 16, 2010
By Jon Cooper
Some sights you never forget, no matter how much you want to.
From 2004 through 2007, one such sight was of 6-3 Shaina Ervin toeing the rubber in a N.C. State uniform and firing her vast array of pitches, the most devastating being her drop-ball.
While Ervin, who was hired as the Georgia Tech softball team’s pitching coach in late July, prefers to joke that what made her stand out was throwing to her twin sister, Miranda, who stood 6-2 (“you don’t really forget two tall twins, when one’s a pitcher, one’s a catcher,” she quipped), anyone involved with the team then or now, is very serious about what the Huntersville, N.C., native brought — and still brings — to the plate.
“I don’t think I got many hits off her. I knew every time she was pitching, ‘This is going to be a tough day,'” recalled current Tech assistant coach Aileen Morales, who starred as Tech’s leadoff hitter from 2005 through 2008, and got to face Ervin plenty during her first three seasons.
“Getting to know her on a professional level, in a coaching environment, it’s amazing to me how much she does know about pitching and how much I think she’s going to bring to the table here.”
Sounds like all’s forgiven, especially now that she’s on Tech’s side.
Her hiring by was a move that came about, as so often happens, when she least expected it.
“I heard about the job being open and saw (head coach) Sharon (Perkins) at a big recruiting tournament and we hit it off. I really wasn’t looking for a job,” said Ervin, who had just completed her second season as pitching coach at Tennessee-Chattanooga. “But it’s always been a career goal of mine to coach in the ACC, where I played, and so this opportunity became available. Through the interview process they liked me enough to hire me, so, it was definitely an honor.”
Perkins never forgot how difficult it was to prepare the Jackets to face Ervin, then a senior, during her debut season of 2007.
“I remember we had to dedicate like an entire week to trying to hit her,” recalled Perkins with a laugh. “We had to set up a machine and we watched a ton of video and talked about what she was throwing. We tried to do our best to try to pick up things. You pretty much knew what was coming but you still needed to hit it. What she was throwing was not easy to hit. She was a very dominant pitcher.”
Perkins is hoping that Ervin can recreate the same dominant form in Tech’s pitching that she did with the Lady Moccasins, who pitched to a 1.97 ERA (21st in the nation) in 2010.
Ervin believes that to get her pitchers in the heads of opponents as deeply as she was in the heads of the Tech hitters begins inside their own heads.
“The center of my coaching philosophy is the mental aspect of the game,” she said. “The mental aspect and having the ability to be a smart pitcher as well as a mentally tough pitcher is something I focus on a lot with my athletes.”
But Ervin’s approach is different than Perkins and Morales, who are more fiery personalities.
“I was a stoic pitcher and I was a consistent pitcher. I never got too high and I never got too low,” said Ervin, who was named MVP of the 2006 ACC Tournament for the champion Wolfpack. “You knew what to expect when I stepped out on the mound and that’s how I am as a coach. I’m not super-emotional high or super-emotional low because I expect my pitchers to practice consistency.
“My goal as a coach is to help [the pitchers] along the way and really push them to be better than they ever thought they could be because I can see that,” she added. “Sometimes as an athlete you can’t really see how good you can be.”
“As far as Adkins goes, she’s mainly a drop-ball pitcher. I’m very familiar with that,” she said. “So I think fine-tuning that pitch and adding a few more consistent pitches in her tool belt is going to help her become a strong pitcher from inning one through inning seven for us.
“With Hope we’re going to tweak some things. We’re going to work on just becoming a smarter pitcher. She was outstanding as a freshman but working with me every day and with these girls, I think we’re going to create a staff of pitchers. So you may have a number one, but you’re going to do it together and that’s going to take you farther than trying to do everything by yourself.”
Not doing everything by herself was at the heart of handing over the staff to Ervin.
“I think it really came down to we’re just trying to move the program along to the next level,” Perkins said. “There are always things that I wanted to do with the pitchers. When that person’s running the entire team, I think it’s difficult to be able to find time to do every little thing you want to do with a certain group of individuals. So I was really trying to search for a pitching coach. I think we found a perfect fit. I think the players are really going to love her.”
And while Ervin may be less emotional she is no less emotionally invested.
“Shaina is a competitor as well,” said Morales. “You can tell, when she’s out on the mound pitching, she’s out for blood and she’s out to win, but I think her approach is a little bit calmer, a little bit more laid-back.”
The sight of Shaina Ervin on the mound…all of a sudden it doesn’t sound so bad any more.