By Kary Feick

It was just like any other game for pitcher Jessica Irwin. She put on her uniform, picked up her mitt, and concentrated on winning another contest for the Madonna University Crusaders.

During the April 23 game, Irwin recorded her 1,258th career strikeout in a 6-0 win against U of M-Dearborn. 

“Going into the game, I had friends and family who were really excited I was so close to breaking the record (only two strikeouts away.) But at the time we were really struggling to win games and I was really hoping we could get back on track and win both games,” said Irwin. 

“I believe I broke it in the second inning of the game and we went on to win 6-0.” 

Irwin now ranks third for strikeouts in all of college softball history. Monica Abbott from the University of Tennessee holds the 2,440-career strikeout record.

“Jess loves what she does. She works at it on and off the field,” said Hallie Minch, another Crusaders pitcher. “I don't think there was a question about her being able to break that record. That's a phenomenal achievement for her.”

Beyond breaking the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) strikeout record, Irwin also received the “Pitcher of the Year” award for the fourth year in a row. “It is really an honor,” said Irwin.

“The league was filled with very talented pitchers. I honestly think the award could have went to a number of different pitchers, including my teammate Hallie Minch.”

But Minch says Jess is, without a doubt, the best pitcher in the league.

“She broke a national strikeout record. I think she deserves Pitcher of the Year to say the least,” said Minch.

Irwin is the first pitcher in Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference history to earn the “Pitcher of the Year“ award four times.

“Jess is an outstanding pitcher,” said Minch. “We played against each other in high school in a pretty tough league. I never thought I would have become such good friends with one of my high school rivals. Jess gets the job done. No questions asked.”

For Irwin, there is no “I” in the game. Instead, women’s softball games are all about Irwin’s selflessness toward reaching the dreams and goals of the team.

“My goal every year is to do my best to prepare myself to be the best pitcher I can be so that I can go out and do my best every game for my team. Softball is a team sport and all of us have to do our part to try and win games,” said Irwin.

Irwin expects to graduate next year with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education. She looks forward to becoming an assistant pitching coach at Madonna starting this fall 2011.

“I am still close with a lot of the older girls that I played with and learned so much from them both on and off the field,” said Irwin. “As for the younger girls, I had a blast getting to know all of them and I will get to watch them play again next year because I am coming back as an assistant coach.”

"It's amazing to me that Jess is done, it seems like yesterday I was meeting this girl who worked for me the whole year before I even saw her pitch and I realized what a special talent she was,” said Bryan Rizzo, Athletic Director at Madonna University. “She set the all time NAIA strike out record. She took us to the NAIA nationals a couple times and had one of the greatest athletic careers, I would probably say you could argue the greatest athletic career in the history of Madonna Athletics.

“What I remember Jess for is the person she is. She's just a wonderful human being, just a joy to be around, and always willing to help out and to me that's what she's going to take with her,” said Rizzo. "Jess will be coming back as an assistant coach, part time, helping out with Coach Al with the pitchers,” said Rizzo. “She will be able to take some of the experience she gained over the years here and hopefully impart it to some of our young pitchers.”

Throughout all of her hard work both academically and on the field, Irwin has created quite a reputation for herself. After four years of softball games, friendships, and many awards, Irwin reflects one last time on Madonna.

“Playing softball has been a major part of my life for the last four years at Madonna and I am really going to miss taking the field every game with each and everyone of my teammates.”



Strikeout leader to help coach Crusaders softball