Marissa Miller has that gleaming smile, effervescent disposition and thoughtful personality to be a slam-dunk senior prom queen.
Then she hits the softball field at Puyallup High School.
On the pitching mound, she has a completely different demeanor. It isn’t so much the wad of bubble gum she has packed in her cheek, or the often quizzical look she shoots an opposing batter. It is her aura of ultra-competitiveness.
And that is flanked by the fact that when, at 5-foot-11, she stands on the mound, she looks like a 7-foot teenager with flailing arms and legs coming at hitters from all directions.
“She does not back down at all,” Puyallup coach Tony Batinovich said. “She is pretty fierce.”
Miller is part of a deep crop of high school fastpitch ace pitchers in the South Sound this spring. She is a returning all-South Puget Sound League South Division first-teamer, and a key if the Vikings want to return to the postseason.
Yet, many – including her softball coach – are surprised this is the sport Miller has chosen for college. She will compete for the Pacific Lutheran University fastpitch team next season.
Her roots are strong and deep in basketball. Her father, Mark, was a two-sport athlete (basketball and football) at PLU. Her brother, Bryce, is currently a member of the Lutes’ men’s basketball squad.
And her stepmother, Chelle – as in the former Bellarmine Prep and Oregon State great Chelle Flamoe – is one of the greatest girls basketball players to ever come out of metro Tacoma.
For the longest time, Miller herself thought she would end up playing college basketball. She only played fastpitch as a youth “because I got to chew bubble gum and play with my friends,” she said.
Miller was always tall, but as she got older, she wasn’t growing to the 6-2 or 6-3 height it took to be noticed as an NCAA Division I or II basketball post player.
And if she was going to stay at 5-11, she needed to become a quicker threat on the perimeter.
“Fast,” she said, “is not really in my genes.”
It wasn’t until her junior season – after splitting her summers between both sports – that she sat down with her parents to reach a decision. It became pretty evident – if she wanted to play a college sport, fastpitch was probably the best way to go.
“It was horrible,” Miller said. “I cried so much. I didn’t want to choose.”
But she did. And even though she had a pretty good fastball – it has been clocked as high as 63 mph – she knew she needed to diversity her pitching arsenal.
So she started working with Eve Gaw Buck, a former third-team All-America ace from the University of Washington.
“Initially when I first met her, I noticed her body type – a tall kid, strong kid and there was a lot there to work with,” Gaw Buck said. “She is very coachable and makes adjustments really quickly.
“And, of course, we are not all born with long levers, and you notice that about Marissa. I am pretty aggressive with students throwing stuff at them and with her, it was about developing proper technique.”
Gaw Buck showed Miller how to throw a riseball. And she helped refine Miller’s curveball, which has become a legitimate out pitch.
And then there are the two variations of change-ups Miller uses, too. Oh yeah, the Puyallup standout taught herself both of them.
“Good pitchers are always working on something,” Batinovich said. “In fact, we are trying to get her to throw her other pitches earlier in the count to keep kids more off balance.”
In her two seasons as a starter at Puyallup, Miller has thrown 239 innings. She has posted a 2.69 earned-run average, and struck out 226 batters while walking 36.
Her ERA for her club team, the Northwest Wildcats, is even lower – 2.01 – over the past two seasons.
Because Miller is still relatively new to competitive fastpitch, Gaw Buck thinks the teenager has not even come close to approaching her ceiling for production.
“I wonder what she would be like if she had a fastball in the mid- to high-60s – she would have been recruited all over the place,” Batinovich said. “Turns out, she has become a better pitcher than thrower.”
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442
PREP FASTPITCH PRIMER
SPSL North champion Tahoma High School lost three starters from last season’s third-place finish at the Class 4A state tournament. But the Bears return the 1-2 pitching punch of Carley Nance (league pitching MVP) and Maddie Scott. Tahoma should also continue to play outstanding defense, and replace whatever speed they might have lost with better power and run-production potential with the top six batters returning.
PLAYER TO WATCH
It takes her less than three seconds to get to first base – and that is in normal gear. As Tahoma coach Tom Milligan notes, sophomore shortstop Mia Corbin, the reigning SPSL North Player of the Year, has an even faster gear in the heat of competition. She hit .443 from the leadoff spot with 46 runs scored and 43 stolen bases last season, and is also a smooth, reliable fielder. Watch out – she is capable of more.
BEST OF THE REST
SPSL 4A – OF Emma Bedsworth, Auburn Riverside, sr.; P Lizzet Dominguez, Kentridge, sr.; P Jasmin Fulmore, Mount Rainier, sr.; P Kendall Goodwin, Kentwood, jr.; OF Chelsey Hayes, Emerald Ridge, sr.; SS Megan Jewett-Chan, Beamer, sr.; P/1B Marissa Miller, Puyallup, sr.; P Carley Nance, Tahoma, so.; P Maddie Rogers, Beamer, jr.; C Rylee Whispel, Rogers, sr.; Jessica Woodruff, Curtis, sr.
Narrows 4A – OF/SS Alyssa McKiernan, Bellarmine Prep, so.; P Courtney Schwan, Bellarmine Prep, sr.; SS/2B Aubrey Lindberg, Gig Harbor, sr.; 1B/P Hannah Spohn, South Kitsap, sr.; P Maddy Stensby, Olympia, jr.
SPSL 3A – P Quinn Breidenbach, Enumclaw, so.; P/1B Melissa Charron, Bonney Lake, sr.; SS Delene Colburn, Auburn Mountainview, sr.; 1B/3B Alaina Morgan, Peninsula, sr.; SS Sarah Morrow, Enumclaw, sr.
Narrows 3A – P Ciarra Davis, North Thurston, so.; SS Darian Grimm, Wilson, sr.; SS Dominique Greeno, North Thurston, jr.; OF Krista Jones, Timberline, sr.; C Megan Porche, Timberline, sr.
SPSL 2A – SS Brooklyn Isaacs, White River, jr.; SS Angela Leingang, Fife, sr.; C Madison Nasinec, Orting, so.; 2B Ali Roselli, Fife, sr.; P Kayla Smith, White River, jr.
Evergreen 2A – P Mattie Boucher, W.F. West, sr.; P Ali Graham, W.F. West, jr.; SS Lexi Tarrow, Black Hills, jr.; SS Alyssa Ubrun, Tumwater, sr.
Nisqually 1A – OF Lisa Kumanska, Seattle Christian, so.; P Morgan Maida, Eatonville, sr.; 3B K.K. Voss, Eatonville, email@example.com