Senior Spotlight: Mainland's Miller parlayed success into opportunity for college softball careerBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
In the old Peanuts cartoons, Linus had his trusty blue security blanket. It helped calm his fears and nervousness. For the past three years, Mainland Regional softball infielders had first baseman Meredith Miller as their security blanket. Errant throws were nary a worry for any of the other infielders. Get the throw anywhere close to the bag, and Miller would stretch, reach, scoop — do just about anything she needed to in order record that out. The former cheerleader even became well known for her full split anytime there was a low throw on what promised to be a close play at first.
To say the slick-fielding left-hander will be tough to replace at the first sack would be an understatement. But her defensive prowess is only half the story. During her time as a Mustang, the recent graduate also was one of the best hitters on the team, and one of the squad’s most respected and consistent leaders.
Miller had no idea how her high school career would unfold, particularly after moving from Absecon to Linwood prior to the start of high school. She got her feet wet the summer before her freshman year by playing with the Northfield all-star team, and, four years later, many of those players remain some of her best friends.
“It was definitely an amazing four years to play on the Mainland softball team. Most of those girls were my best friends, so being able to be on the field with them was super cool. It’s always fun cheering on your friends and watching them be successful,” said Miller, a 2017 graduate.
Miller had to earn her keep, however, and learn how to deal with disappointment early in her career. She was hoping to make it onto the varsity roster as a freshman, but Mainland has had a traditionally strong program under coaches Frank Marascio, Pick Connor and Tori Rich, so it’s typically not easy for a freshman to crack the lineup. Miller spent her first year of high school on the junior varsity team, which only made her work harder to get to where she really wanted to be.
“During rec ball, I was actually a catcher. When I started playing travel ball, I tried out for first base because I’m a lefty and that’s an ideal position for a lefty, and I just stuck with it,” she said. “I thought I had a chance to be on varsity after playing for the Northfield all-star team. We had a pretty good season, and I was looking for that varsity spot (as a freshman), but I played JV. I was upset, but it gave me the drive to work harder and push myself, and the next year I made varsity. I would hit with my hitting instructor, Lisa Egrie, at least once a week, and I would go to the cages with my dad to work on repetition and hitting different pitches. I played that whole summer after freshman year with the Northfield all-stars again.”
The extra work paid off, as Miller blossomed into one of the more feared hitters in the Cape-Atlantic League. She also was part of a trio of tremendous left-handed hitters in the heart of the Mustangs’ order, along with Mackenzie Brennan, who led the state in hits in 2016, and Faith Hegh, a University of Alabama-Birmingham commit who still has another season of high school to go, as does Brennan. Those three left-handed hitters gave pitchers fits the past three seasons.
“It’s rare for a team to have that many lefties, so that was kind of our secret weapon,” Miller said.
Miller picked up career hit No. 100 during her senior year, on her birthday, no less, during a win over Wildwood Catholic on May 4.
“I was excited about that. It’s an accomplishment to get 100 hits and to hit as well as I did this season. I was surprised, but I was happy that I finished up as well as I did. I made it to 100 hits, and actually got it on my birthday,” she said.
With all that Brennan and Hegh have accomplished the past two seasons, it might have been easy to overlook what Miller was contributing, but the numbers don’t lie. She batted better than .500 for her career and had more than 50 runs and RBIs. She also finished her career on a 25-game hitting streak that spanned two seasons — meaning she got a hit in every game during her senior year. Miller also was a key member of the 2016 team that advanced to the South Jersey Group 3 championship game before falling to Lacey Township.
“It was surreal. Leading up to the game, each game we played our hardest and played like it was our last game ever. I think that was one of the keys to our success my junior year,” Miller said of that championship game. “We went into that game with the same mentality. We came out in the beginning and got the lead, until the end. (Losing) was upsetting, but we left it all out on the field that day, so I’m not disappointed.”
Miller graduated not even knowing she had finished on a 25-game tear at the plate.
“I didn’t really keep track of how many hits I got in a game. When it comes to hitting, I always tried to hit for my team, not for myself,” she said.
All of her success has led her to a spot in the University of Delaware softball program. She plans to study exercise science, perhaps one day pursuing a masters degree and becoming a physical therapist.
“When I first started playing travel ball, I didn’t think (playing in college) would be possible, but I fell in love with the sport and I definitely wanted to play it in college, so that was definitely a factor in deciding where I wanted to go. I was interested in some other schools, but I went to a camp at the University of Delaware, introduced myself, sent them my skills video, and they took a liking to me. And I fell in love with the school, so it turned out to be a perfect fit,” Miller said. “It’s going to be weird not playing softball with all my friends next year, but I’m excited about the transition to the next level. I know all the girls (at Delaware) are going to be really competitive, so I know I’m going to have to work hard to secure a position. I’m going to build off the end of my season this year and hopefully become a better player, and just play my hardest next year.”
Miller said she’s going to miss Mainland, her teammates, and especially her coaches.
“I’m definitely going to miss playing for (Marascio, Connor and Rich). They are super cool and we got along so well. It’s going to be hard transitioning from such a close-knit group to something new, but I hope I can achieve the same closeness with the girls and coaches at U-Del,” Miller said. “I came from Absecon, so I was the new kid, but I made a lot of friends and a lot of memories, so I’m happy about that. I love how close everyone is at Mainland and how much school spirit there is.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays