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10 April 2008
Fleming Shining for Gamecocks Softball

By Jimmy Smothers
The Gadsden Times Sports Editor

Reprinted here in its entirety.

JSU senior softball left fielder Rachel Fleming is putting her name in the Gamecocks’ record books. Photo: Special to The Times

JACKSONVILLE — First-year wonder and sophomore jinx are familiar terms in baseball, but they certainly don’t apply to softball, at least not where Rachel Fleming is concerned.

Fleming is a senior left fielder for Jacksonville State University’s softball team playing her second season with the Gamecocks. But in that short amount of time she has accomplished things a lot of the four-year players never do.

For example, she has stolen 30 bases and never been thrown out. As a junior she stole 21, which was 11th-best on the school’s career stolen base record. In the first 26 games this year she added nine more, moving into fifth place, only four steals behind No. 4 Becky Carpenetti, who stole 34 during her four-year collegiate career.

Fleming doesn’t just stand out for her base stealing. Her coach, Jana McGinnis, says Rachel is “one of those unique players who has all the characteristics that make coaching enjoyable. Not only is she a great athlete, but a good person who is self-disciplined, goal-oriented and self-driven.”

Coach McGinnis says Fleming is “What I call a triple-threat softball player. She can hit for power, she can bunt and she can slap. And she has speed. She is so fast that she puts a lot of pressure on the defense. If they come in trying to take her short game away, she is liable to hit one over the fence. That really helps her be successful.”

Last year, in her first year with the Gamecocks, Fleming was the fifth-leading hitter (.357 average) in the Ohio Valley Conference. She was named “Newcomer of the Year” and to the All-Conference second team.

It seemed as if the “sophomore jinx” was going to step in as Fleming started slow this season; perhaps because she was hit in the face during warm-ups the first week of play. She suffered cracked and broken bones in her cheek, missing the next two games. When she returned she had to wear a face mask to protect the injury.

That was a month ago. Then all of a sudden she is having a “break-out” season, hitting .355 overall, which is 11th best in the OVC. Against conference opponents, she is hitting about .500.

In one game last week she hit a triple, single and home run.

“If I could have also hit a double I’d have hit for the cycle, which is something I’ve never done,” Fleming said. But that isn’t something she thinks about.

“I just love making diving catches, so my ideal game would begin with making a good diving catch,” she said. “I also like getting solid hits, so I would like to get three solid hits in three-at-bats. And if one of those happened to be a home run, that would be great. I don’t hit many home runs.”

Her ideal game didn’t include any stolen bases, perhaps because setting school records isn’t anything she thinks about. “Except only when someone mentions it to me,” she added.

The team goal of winning the regional and making it to the next level comes first. Her individual goal is to just help the team any way she can.

“My batting average doesn’t bother me as much as getting on base,” Fleming said. “If I can get on base, that’s important. It doesn’t matter how I do it — get hit by a pitch, walk, get on via an error, get a hit, whatever.”

Fleming started playing baseball at age six, playing on teams with boys for four years. At 10, she switched to slow-pitch softball. When she was in the 10th grade at Gaston High School she started playing fast-pitch softball, volleyball and basketball.

One year she wanted to play football, but her daddy said no; although she confesses to “being a real tomboy, who went fishing and hunting and did all the things my brothers did.”

“I would go to softball camps at Jacksonville State, which was my dream school,” she said. “I grew up wanting to play for the Gamecocks.”

Coach McGinnis said Fleming was good enough to get a scholarship when she graduated from high school, but there was no scholarship money available. She was a catcher at that time, and Jackson ville didn’t really need another catcher at that time.

“We asked her to walk on, but Wallace-Hanceville Junior College offered to pay for everything if she’d go there; and I can certainly understand that,” the coach recalled.

Fleming said she signed a volleyball scholarship, then walked on as a softball player hoping that she would get picked up by a four-year school. She did, by McGinnis and her ‘Dream School’ and it has been uphill since; getting better day-by-day.

“I just love softball — that’s my thing. I sleep it, dream it and play it. It’s a 24-hour thing with me. I am planning to teach and coach softball,” Fleming said. “I’m getting married in June and have even considered having the wedding on a softball diamond, which my coach at Wallace did when she was married. But my grandparents want me to have the wedding at their house. They said I could bring some softball bats and stuff to include in the decorations, so I guess that is what I will do. But I’ve given a wedding on a softball field a lot of thought.”

“She gets along well with kids and will make a good coach,” said McGinnis. “It will take a while for her to get a thick skin; learn to deal with parents and the negatives of coaching. But she will become a great coach. I would want my kid to play for Rachel.”

Jacksonville State swept second-place Eastern Kentucky over the weekend to take a three-game lead over Morehead State at the halfway point of the conference schedule. In the third game of the series Sunday afternoon, Fleming went 2-for-4 with two RBI. Teammate Allie Barker, also a Gadsden native, had a double and home run in four at-bats, driving in four runs in the 8-7 win.

In the doubleheader Saturday, Mary Beth Ledbetter, a Southside native, hit two clutch home runs. In the first game, she hit a two-out grand slam in bottom of the fifth to spark an 11-7 win. In the second game, the team’s No. 9 hitter hit a two-run homer to cap a four-run rally for a 6-5 win.

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