The Colgate Scene
May 1999
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Tilting with the windmill

by John D. Hubbard
[IMAGE]


[IMAGE]

Tara McGoff is 43 feet away, a few more than a dozen strides is all, and with a big yellow ball in her right hand she appears closer yet.

     For most batters, Colgate's outstanding softball pitcher is way too close. McGoff whips the ball at them -- it comes screaming out of her windmill motion -- and even though it is big and yellow, for those batters who manage to see the ball at all, it more closely resembles a canned pea.

     It isn't just McGoff's velocity that intimidates. Combine the speed with guile that comes disguised as a variety of pitches (knuckle ball, curve, rise, drop and change, oh my) and you have a pitcher with a list of records and accolades as long as, well, her arm.

     McGoff is Colgate's all-time win leader with 49, including 13 shutouts, and strikeout leader with 421 (all as of mid-April) and is on her way to recording the program's lowest earned run average ever. She was the Patriot League pitcher of the year as a sophomore and junior and last year was first team all-league pitcher (for the third straight season) and the second team all-league centerfielder.

     "I feel more a part of the team when I can do more than one thing," said McGoff, who does indeed. She stands second on the all-time Colgate list of hits, fourth for doubles, eighth in career hits and 12th for runs batted in.

     Not bad for someone recruited to play basketball. McGoff played soccer, hoops and softball at Chenango Valley High, not far from Binghamton. Tara began her softball career at third base but was inspired by the pitchers she saw during the ASA Nationals in Oklahoma and spent a year practicing, much of the time in her basement, before taking the mound.

     McGoff toyed with the idea of playing two sports at Colgate -- she fell in love with the place during a visit -- but finally decided pitching required too much off-season attention.

     That first year, playing for Katie Flynn '88, McGoff went 10-10 and won all-league honors, but she wasn't satisfied.

     "It was the first time I hadn't had a winning record and I realized college softball was going to be more of a challenge. The fact we didn't do all that well made me work harder."

     The determination paid off. Colgate ended up second in the Patriot League the next season with an heroic effort. Playing out of the loser's bracket in the post-season tournament, McGoff and Colgate beat Bucknell, forcing a second game with the Bisons for the title.

     Bucknell eventually won in the 19th inning, but the championship was overshadowed by McGoff's remarkable individual effort. In all, she pitched 33 innings that day, including the entire title game.

     That nearly bionic durability has been on display repeatedly. This season, for instance, with a young team an unsteady 2-4 in league play, Colgate traveled to West Point to play the highly touted Cadets. McGoff won Saturday's first game 3-0. She pitched the second game as well and won 3-0 again. On Sunday McGoff beat Army 2-1 in eight innings before eventually running out of gas and losing the fourth game of the weekend.

     "The windmill delivery is more natural," said McGoff, comparing her pitching motion to baseball's over the top mechanics. Okay, but there is obviously something more at work here.

     "Tara thrives on pressure," explained second-year coach Vickie Sax. "She's an intelligent player, too. She doesn't just go out and throw."

     McGoff, who feels pitching is "75 to 80 percent mental, studies her opponents, taking note of how a batter sets herself at the plate and the way she swings the bat. The research is plentiful during league play when two doubleheaders is the weekend routine.

     "Playing someone four times in a weekend, you get to know them."

     Despite her success as a player, thoughts of post-graduation softball have centered on coaching -- Tara wants to pursue a masters in counseling -- not playing. The Women's Professional Fast Pitch Association has expressed interest.

     Whatever her choice, Tara McGoff isn't going to abandon the sport.

     "I love the game. I enjoy the entire softball experience." A lot more than the batters she's faced.

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