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Former NMCC star continues her dominance at Three Rivers

Sunday, May 9, 2004

POPLAR BLUFF -- Heather Robey is dressed for the occasion when she takes the field. Eye black is carefully lined under each eye, black socks rise just short of her knees and her visor is always flipped upside down and backwards.

It's flashy apparel, but this pitcher is anything but flamboyant.

Despite eye-popping numbers that make her an All-American candidate and one of the best all-around players in the history of the Three Rivers softball team, no one is more grounded than Robey. Asked about her no-hitter, she says it doesn't matter if she allowed 10 hits as long as her team wins. Mention her string of 55 scoreless innings, she says she still has room for improvement.

"She's humble and has a great attitude about the game," Lady Raiders coach Jack Childress said. "You trying to say dominating and she quickly says, 'I don't know if it's dominating.'"

There?s hardly another way to put it.

The hard-throwing, left-handed freshman from New Madrid has been nothing short of sensational her freshman season at Three Rivers. Her numbers prove it: a 19-4 record, 184 strikeouts, three no-hitters, nine complete-game shutouts and 16 appearances without allowing an earned run. Opponents are batting a measly .138 against Robey going into this weekend's Region XVI tournament in Columbia.

But that's just half the equation. Robey is just as effective at the plate as she is throwing to it.

A right-handed batter, Robey leads the Lady Raiders in batting average (.412), on-base percentage (.458), slugging percentage (.595), hits (61), runs (27), doubles (14) and RBIs (27).

Most junior college pitchers have designated hitters bat for them, Robey hits third in the lineup. When she's not starting on the mound, she's playing center field.

"I heard a lot of things about Heather and her pitching, but her bat has been the thing you didn't know it would be," Childress said. "In all facets, she's probably the best we've ever had."

The start to Robey's collegiate career is a continuation of the success she enjoyed at New Madrid County Central. As a sophomore, she threw a perfect game, three no-hitters and led Southeast Missouri in strikeouts. The next year she gave up just three hits and didn't allow an earned run in 37 innings of work.

Despite those numbers, even Robey is somewhat surprised by her success with the Lady Raiders.

"I knew it was going to be a lot different than high school, but I think the adjustment is not as bad as I thought it would be," Robey said. "I kinda overestimated it, I guess."

It hasn't been complete smooth sailing for Robey, though. She started the season 3-2 and lost back-to-back decisions for the first time in her career in early April.

That's when Childress convinced Robey, who throws a riseball, dropball, cutter and knuckle, to rely more on her changeup to keep batters off balance. Since that discussion, Robey has won 10 straight games and allowed just two earned runs in 62 innings of work.

"I think she always had it, she just didn't use it that much," Childress said. "At this level it's a little bit different. You have to keep people off balance, especially the second time through the lineup or they'll time you and take you for a ride."

Robey said it was a lesson she quickly learned.

"There's always that comfort pitch that you rely on and mine's the fastball, but I'm getting better with the changeup and starting to throw it in more clutch spots," she said. "I realized how important the changeup is when those batters start to get your timing."

When Robey isn't producing strikeouts - she's fanned 10 or more batters seven times this season and averages eight per seven innings - she's taking care of most of the outs herself. Often sprawling and diving after comeback grounders like a hockey goalie, Robey has a team-high 235 assists. After recording 16 of 21 possible outs in Wednesday's game against Shawnee, one of her teammates suggested to Robey that she didn't have to do all the work by herself.

"She's definitely surprised me," sophomore Kristi Wallace said. "She's done outstanding for coming in the way she did."

Considering the variety of pitches she uses to compliment a 60 mph fastball, Childress said it's not hard to figure out Robey's success. Being left-handed also helps.

"Probably the only thing detrimental to her is the walks that she gives up, but at times she can shut a team down," Childress said. "If she's throwing well and gets cooperation behind the plate - I don?t know if the word is dominating, but she's capable of controlling the game."

Of course, Robey would never say so.

"I know every day I've got to get better," she said. "It's not so much that I'm dominating now because really, I'm not. I can't dominate until I pitch perfect games every game, so there's always room for improvement."