Playing Division I ball was a dream for Melissa Smith, so when the former South Tahoe pitcher finally got her chance she took it.
Smith accepted a full-ride scholarship to pitch for a Division I school, Lamar University, in Beaumont Texas. It's the first time the Division I school has fielded a softball team since 1987, and Smith will help rebuild its legacy.
"We're excited to have her," said softball coach Holly Bruder. "Coming mid year is always a scary situation, but she's shown great character in the workouts already and that's coming from a junior college and taking a little time off probably."
Smith was pitching at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., when her coach got an email that Lamar needed a pitcher who could throw inside. Smith fit the bill.
The right-hander was 13-6 with a 1.90 ERA and 118 strikeouts in 110 innings. She also had two saves, and could throw inside risers and screwballs like nobody's business.
So Smith put some pitching footage together.
"It was always my dream to play for a DI school so I figured I'd give it a shot," Smith said.
The Lamar coaching staff liked what they saw.
"Her inside stuff is really good," Bruder said. "Most kids are a little fearful of hitting kids, but she likes going in. The pitch coming up is always the one you've got to think about, and if she can throw that efficiently, like I think she can, than she might be pretty effective."
Right now, Smith is throwing 59-60 mph consistently every pitch. Bruder expects she'll be hitting 63 by the end of the season with all the extra weight training of a DI program.
"You can throw a six at this level with some movement and you'll be OK, but if you really want to excel at a mid-major Division I you're going to have to hit about 63 or 64 and I think that's going to just come with training," Bruder said.
Just as a refresher, Smith led the Vikings to their first-ever league championship back in 2011. She also set Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association records for strikeouts in a game (17) and season (252). She picked up a couple titles of her own along the way - Mount Rose League Player of the Year, Academic All-State selection all four years, and first-team All-State pitcher.
Now Smith is hoping to build another softball legacy with a new team and a new program.
"It's kind of a fun in a way because no one expects anything out of us, so it's just going to be something to prove," Smith said.
Don't underestimate Bruder's ability to recruit either. She did, after all, find Smith.
Lamar plays in the Southland Conference, and will open its softball season at Feb. 9 at home.