Murray State's Hannah James Fulfills Destiny In The Circle
Before Hannah James set off for her freshman year at Murray State, her friend, Zack Parsons, had a message for her: "You're going to be the conference pitcher of the year one year."
At the time, James just laughed it off, thinking that was just a fantasy.
"I was like, 'no, no, no, you're crazy. Like, no way,'" James said.
It turns out Parsons was right. But even he couldn’t have predicted at the time that he would be able to witness it firsthand as her pitching coach.
In the fall of 2018, James left her hometown of Nicholasville, Ky. and traveled four hours across the state to her new home in Murray. Any nerves she may have had at the beginning of her freshman season quickly faded away. She led the Racers in wins with 12, maintained a 2.58 ERA, notched 120 strikeouts for the year and was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year.
After a shortened 2020 campaign due to COVID-19, Parsons then joined the coaching staff as an assistant coach for the 2021 season. With a friend that she had grown up with now on the staff as her pitching coach, James had a career-best junior season with 158 strikeouts and a 2.21 ERA. Right behind her was her teammate Jenna Veber, who struck out 61 batters, while only issuing 10 walks. James credits Parsons' coaching as a big reason for both of their continued successes.
"He is so smart and he knows what he's talking about so well," said James. "It's what he's teaching us, his pitch calling, it's all just really led to good success for me and (Veber)."
Their shared accomplishments during the 2021 campaign, however, were just a warmup for what 2022 would bring.
These eye-opening stats tell the story: James had the ninth-best ERA in Division I softball, finishing at 1.16, and Veber had the 12th-best, ending her season at 1.34. Both pitchers had career highs in wins and strikeouts, with James setting program records for strikeouts in one season (233) and career strikeouts (562). Combined with a productive team offense—senior Logan Braundmeier had 26 doubles—the Racers made their first NCAA regional appearance in program history. And James fulfilled Parsons' prediction, earning the OVC Pitcher of the Year award.
Looking back on Parsons' fortune-telling before James left for college, she now sees the whole journey as pretty unbelievable.
"Just to be able to experience that with him as my pitching coach here was pretty unreal," said James.
It is not often that your pitching coach is a friend that you grew up with. It creates a dynamic, that, according to James, allows both to thrive in their roles.
"It's really interesting because I'm not intimidated to tell him, 'I think this is what we need to throw,'" said James. "A lot of coaches would just brush it off and not even listen to you."
At the same time, Parsons and James can sit down and talk about things outside of softball. Last year, the two had a conversation about school, which allowed James to "rant for like 30 minutes." Parsons also has a degree in counseling, which, according to James, makes him easy to talk with.
For this season, a topic of discussion between the two has been how James, like most athletes, tends to be hard on herself. Those discussions have led to a goal for James in her final college softball campaign: to have fun.
"I've gotten awards, I've gotten records," she said. "This year, I'm just going to focus on having the best time and ending on a good note."
The Racers will play this season as new members of the Missouri Valley Conference. Another former OVC school, Belmont, will also make the transition. Murray State was picked to finish second in the conference this year behind defending–regular season champion Northern Iowa.
"I'm really excited," said James. "We've played against a few teams in the MVC, and I know it's going to be really good competition."