Time flies when you're having fun, and it's certainly been an enjoyable — and successful — run for Taylor Schmidt as a member of the Oregon Tech softball team.
Midway through her final trip through the Cascade Collegiate Conference schedule, Schmidt and the Owls are on a mini-break from their usual grind and she found time to put her career in perspective Wednesday. And if there's one thing that's clear, the 5-foot-9 senior pitcher said she's not looking forward to the day when her softball career comes to an end.
WHO: Senior right-handed pitcher for the Oregon Tech softball team.
"It's not going to be good, it's really sad to think about that," she said. "It hasn't hit me yet but it's going to be something that hits me all at once because I'll be graduating around then, too. I've played softball all my life and to have it all over after this year, I can't even think about what that will be like."
Schmidt will begin her final turn through the conference with a doubleheader next Friday against Eastern Oregon. After that there will be six more twin bills before hopefully advancing to the CCC tournament and possibly the NAIA national championships.
"If we're all on in one day, we're a tough team to beat so hopefully we can pick it up and finish strong," said the 22-year-old Schmidt.
Oregon Tech (26-9, 10-4 CCC) currently is ranked 15th in the NAIA polls after slipping from eighth last week following a slight skid that included a pair of one-run losses to CCC-leading Corban and a split Tuesday with Southern Oregon. The Owls are tied for second in conference with Concordia, and both are three games back of Corban.
"We're off to a pretty good start so it's been fun," said Schmidt, who was the Class 6A player of the year in 2009 after leading North Medford to the state title in her senior year. "We don't really pay too much attention to the polls. It's not that important to us now, we're mostly focusing on playing our conference schedule and doing the best we can in league to get a chance to play in the conference tournament."
Schmidt has been a key reason why the Owls are in the position that they're in. She sports a 16-3 record and 1.96 ERA to go with a .287 batting average with 11 runs and 18 RBIs. Her fielding percentage is .931 with 50 assists and only four errors.
She has been named the conference pitcher of the week three times this season, including back-to-back weeks for March 4-10 and March 11-17. During her four-year tenure at Oregon Tech, Schmidt has earned that honor on eight occasions. She was the conference pitcher of the year in 2012 and also earned second-team All-American honors last season.
"It's exciting to be recognized like that and kinda nice to have that (pitcher of the week) award every once in a while," she said. "What that usually means is the team's winning, and that's always a good sign."
Winning and Schmidt have certainly seemed to go hand-in-hand at Oregon Tech. The team went 21-20 a year prior to her joining the Owls and, after a 25-25 first season, Schmidt has seen her team enjoy some of the best seasons in school history. Oregon Tech went 42-13 en route to becoming NAIA champions in 2011 and 41-8 in 2012 after advancing to the national tourney but falling short of defending its crown.
To date, Schmidt has seen the Owls compile a 134-55 record (.709) with two conference titles and one national championship with her on the squad. She was named the team's MVP in 2010 and '12.
"I just feel really blessed that I've had the opportunity to play the sport that I love past high school," she said. "Not too many people have the opportunity to do that and I've had the opportunity to play at a school close to home so my friends and family can watch, and also play for a coach (Greg Stewart) who is a really good guy and with some amazing players in my four years."
Schmidt has made the most of that opportunity and stands to wrap up her career at Oregon Tech as one of its most decorated players with her name all over the school record book. She already holds the single-season school record for wins in a season after going 27-5 last year, and has crept up the career record list in wins (72, second place), strikeouts (341, third place) and innings pitched (553, second place).
As proof of her overall talents and versatility, Schmidt also stands tied for ninth with Sara Coates in career home runs (17) and her 99 RBIs has her 12th on the all-time list and within four of 10th place for yet another top-10 honor.
And all those figures are with at least 14 games to go and no signs of letting up by Schmidt, who throws five bullpen sessions a week and then finds time to hone her hitting skills.
"Being a pitcher you kinda have to put in more work than everyone else, it's just the way it is," she said. "We're there early before everyone else and stay until the end of practice. It's up to you to decide how much effort you want to put in to be the best you can be."
Given her career totals, it's easy to see that putting the time in has never been a problem for Schmidt. In her career at OIT, she is a .307 hitter with 84 runs, 99 RBIs, 23 doubles, four triples and 17 home runs with 185 assists against 24 errors.
Inside the circle, she's progressed each year to amass a 72-18 record with five saves and a 2.11 ERA with 167 earned runs in 553 innings pitched. Schmidt boasts 341 strikeouts against 147 walks but finds that to be the least important statistic in the bunch.
"I wouldn't say I'm much of a strikeout pitcher," she said. "It's not something I try to do. If it happens, then great, but mostly I'm trying to get groundballs and keep the ball down. When I do get a strikeout it's just kind of a bonus."
"I don't throw that hard so a lot of it for me is spinning the ball and making it move," added Schmidt, who is studying accounting and hopes to become a CPA after graduating from OIT. "That's what's keeping people off-balance. You're not going to throw it by people at the college level so it's all about moving the ball."
Schmidt said her growth as a pitcher seems to continue with each passing time out in the circle, and she certainly doesn't think she's gotten it all figured out just yet.
"I think I've just been getting better with experience and becoming a smarter pitcher," she said of her path from freshman year to this one. "I've learned to hit my spots better, when to throw certain pitches and just more about myself as a pitcher in general with every experience I've had. I feel like I've been mixing it up a lot this year and just really focusing on hitting the corners and hitting my spots more than anything, because missing a spot can change the whole game."
Just like finding the right spot can set you up for a thrilling collegiate career.