By MICHAEL COIT
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A challenging junior year turned scary when Stephanie Sarris took a line drive to the head, resulting in a concussion ending her season at Delaware State.
Another injury, another battle to stay in the game.
Sarris, softball standout at Rancho Cotate, then transferred schools her senior season for a change of scenery. What followed was a season for the Wilmington University record books.
“There were a lot of ups and downs. I pulled through,” Sarris said.
Stepping in as Wilmington’s ace, Sarris led the Wildcats to the program’s first NCAA Division II tournament win. Sarris was the MVP, leading Wilmington to the school’s first Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Tournament title.
She started and completed the season’s final seven contests.
“I could not have asked for a better ending. It was one of the best softball years I’ve had in any way,” Sarris said.
The journey from injury back to the field began notably without a summer of competitive softball in 2013. Sarris played increasingly-higher levels of travel ball soon after taking up the game as an 8-year-old in Rohnert Park. But she needed time to heal from the concussion and a balky pitching elbow last summer. Staying in Dover rather than returning to Rohnert Park, she took a job waitressing and hung out with college friends.
While she prepared for life after softball, Sarris’ competitive fire burned for one last season.
“I wanted to prove to myself that I could come back even better,” she said.
Working with a pitching coach emphasizing Sarris’ command of four different pitches, she was dominant from the outset of her senior year. She went 17-10, completing 21 games, including four shutouts. The wins were second most for a single season in Wilmington history.
“It was a little pressure. I had to be a good teammate being new for one year,” Sarris said. “Mentally and physically I wasn’t just doing it for myself.”
Playing best when games counted most, Wilmington swept the conference tournament with Sarris yielding just seven runs in four games.
Despite falling in the East Regional in three games, the Wildcats did win the program’s first NCAA tournament contest. Sarris went the distance in the 2-1 victory over New Haven.
“My coach said my team was riding my arm. It was the last year of my career,” Sarris said. “We definitely made some history.”
Wilmington figured Sarris would contribute in a big way. She pitched winning softball in three seasons at Delaware State, inking her name in the record books for the Hornets.
An All-Mid Eastern Athletic Conference as a freshman, Sarris set the school record for saves and posted the fourth-best ERA in program history.
Sarris followed with another All-Mid Eastern Athletic Conference campaign, leading Delaware State for innings pitched.
Her junior season was solid, leading the Hornets in wins and ERA. Then came the concussion in the final week of the regular season. Sarris missed the conference tournament.
Battling back from injury was familiar for Sarris.
“I’m a survivor,” she said.
After missing a month to shoulder pain her senior high school season, Sarris returned to lead Rancho Cotate to the North Coast Section Division 2 championship game.
A shoulder operation shut her down for fall practice as a freshman at Delaware State. She was back in the spring for a sharp first college season.
Finding the courage to get back on the mound after being hit by a line drive was not as difficult as coping with the headaches that still nag her on occasion.
Now back in Rohnert Park, Sarris is completing two online classes for her general studies degree with a history minor. She is an intern with the West Sonoma County Union High School District.
A fulfilling, final college softball season set up her next chapter in life.
“I think I made the most of it,” she said. “I proved to myself I’m strong.”
You can reach Staff Writer Michael Coit at 521-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.