After delivering heroics in the circle en route to the 2010 Division 1 state championship, King Philip ace Meghan Rico has arrived in the 2011 season as one of several big-time pitchers to watch in Massachusetts.
The junior first made waves when she came on in the sixth inning of a one-run battle with Dighton-Rehoboth in the D1 South semifinals, after UMass-bound hurler Maggie Quealy took a line drive to the face, and picked up the win. She then pitched a shutout of Bishop Feehan in the sectional final; came on again in place of Quealy in the state semifinals against Concord-Carlisle, after Quealy had thrown a number of illegal pitches; and delivered the Warriors to a 10-1 defeat of Milford in the finals for the state title.
Rico, a Division 1 prospect, isn't your classic power pitcher. But she still brings the heat across the plate with considerable force, in addition to some well-placed offspeed stuff. Through her first four appearances, she's 4-0 with 57 strikeouts in 28 innings, including 15 K's in a 1-0 win over Shrewsbury Monday in which she was a hit batter away from a perfect game. Rico sat down with ESPNBoston.com following the game to talk about her stuff, the battery with her best friend, and how she calms her nerves.
Q: First, take me through your pregame routine.
A: "I usually don't come in too nervous. Last year, I came in with a lot of nerves, because I hadn't pitched before. Just, my catcher [Olivia Godin] calms me down all the time. She goes through my warmups with me, calls the whole game, does a good job with it. I listen to her for everything, and she gets me through it."
Q: Does she call a lot of fastball for you? Seems like based on today, you're able to locate it well for strikes.
A: "My go-to pitch is probably curve and screwball, I have to say. Not so much fastball, though."
Q: How much work has gone into developing that repertoire?
A: "A lot of work, definitely, because I want to go to college for softball, and I know I'm not tall. And if I'm trying to be a pitcher at a D1 school, I need to make it spin, because I definitely don't have the speed that some of those girls have. So, I have to put a lot of work into my spin pitches, more so than the speed."
Q: And just building on that last point, you don't have a prototypical college pitchers' body, so how have you made it work?
A: "This year, I worked with a trainer [at Challenge Fast, Inc., in Plainville] every day over the winter. I gave up basketball and soccer to work with the trainer and focus on the sport for college."
Q: How important is the leg strength for you?
A: "So important. He worked with me so much on my legs and my arms, with squats and everything. It's definitely helped me out this season, to pick up a little more speed even though my size isn't all there (laughs)."
Q: Let's go back to the state championship game last season against Milford. How nervous were you before the game?
A: "If you talked to my catcher...I was so nervous. Coming into the Dighton-Rehoboth game [a 3-2 win in the D1 South semifinals] was probably the most nervous I'd probably ever been for something in my life. I thought I was gonna pass out when I got called out to pitch. Milford game, he told me I was going to pitch a few games before, so I had time to calm my nerves, whereas the D-R game I was thrown right in. But [I] had to expect it, we've been working hard all season and it was only a matter of time."
Q: How did you calm down?
A: "My catcher. She does a good job with me. She is my AAU catcher too (with the Rhode Island Thunder), so I know her pretty well."
Q: How close are you and her off the field?
A: "She's my best friend. Yep, she can pretty much read my brain, so when she's calling my pitches I don't question her."
Q: Are you aware you almost had a perfect game today?
A: "Oh!...I don't know. I really don't pay attention to that in the game. Honestly, when I strike out batting, it makes me really, really mad. And I think I do better pitching when I'm more mad out there, because I'm not used to hitting, and I haven't hit in a long time. I love it, but it's something I've got to work on. It's hard to focus on both."
Q: Is it one of those things where you just zone everything out?
A: "Yeah, when I'm out on the mound I have a lot of confidence in myself, and I think that's how I get through it. Batting? Still working on that, but we'll see."
Q: Where would you like to improve the most?
A: "I mean...I definitely want to win a state championship again. That helped me a lot with recruiting and everything, and it was the best feeling I had for probably the whole summer -- and still is. But, just keep working on my spin, because I can't really get too much more speed. I've been trying to lift and get as much speed as I can, but just work on my spinning, work on my hitting.
Q: What did you learn the past two seasons from spelling Maggie Quealy?
A: "I learned so much from her. She's a great leader on the field, and everyone said we're going to have a tough time this year with losing her, and our other captain Kara [O'Neill], because they're such good leaders. And just on the field, when she got hit, and when she got caught for illegal pitching [in the state semifinals against Concord-Carlisle], she went right out to right field and told the whole game, 'You look out here, I'm your focus point. Turn around, I'll be there. If you're nervous, look at me'. It calmed me down, along with my catcher [Godin], to help me do what we did."