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Vic’s Subs Cover Story: Atlantic City softball pitcher Megan Master following in mother’s footsteps

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By DAVE O’SULLIVAN Publisher Atlantic City junior softball pitcher Megan Master gets to see her mom every day while at school. Well, not in person. She passes by her mother’s school Hall-of-Fame plaque in the hallway. Margie Master, known during her Vikings days at Margie Egrie, was an outstanding pitcher herself who later went on to become an All-American at Georgian Court College in Ocean County. That’s a lot of pressure to live up to, but Megan is handling it well. She’s beginning to write her own legacy at the school and has become an important player in the rebuilding process of the Atlantic City softball program. Two years ago, when Megan was a freshman, the varsity team went on an inspiring postseason run that saw the 16th-seeded Vikings advance all the way to the South Jersey Group 4 championship game behind the outstanding pitching of Maddie Taggart. Atlantic City began the tournament by shocking top-seeded Kingsway, then beat No. 9 Egg Harbor Township and 13th-seeded Cherry Hill West before falling to No. 3 Washington Township. Most of the players from that team have since graduated, and this year’s Vikings lineup features a host of players who don’t have a lot of varsity experience. As a result, Atlantic City finished out April with a disappointing 1-9 record, but Megan has remained positive throughout the season. She knows a lot is asked of her as the starting pitcher to help keep the team stay competitive in a very strong Cape-Atlantic League, and she is one of the most talented pitchers in the league. She and a handful of seniors on the roster are doing their best to help build the program back to where it was a few years ago. “I always enjoyed pitching. I wanted to be like (my mom). She always helped me with my pitching,” Megan said. “At the beginning, I was a little wild, too, as I was learning the mechanics, but I feel pretty confident now. It takes a lot of practice, and you have to be confident. You have to know what you’re doing and listen to your coaches.” “The most important thing to me, from a coaching stand point, is her character is tested every day when she goes out there. Knowing she doesn’t have the experience behind her, it could go either way,” said Vikings coach Jason Grimes. “But she’s never complained. I think that tells you what kind of kid she is. We set small goals, like trying not to walk anyone and seeing how many she can strike out. She’s averaging more than 10 strikeouts per game, and when we are getting beat by a lot of runs she’s still striking people out. She has much better control this year and she’s a lot more of a leader. Atlantic City junior softball pitcher Megan Master is following in her mother Margie's footsteps, as Margie was an outstanding pitcher during her days as  Viking in the late 1980s. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O'Sullivan) Atlantic City junior softball pitcher Megan Master is following in her mother Margie’s footsteps, as Margie was an outstanding pitcher during her days as Viking in the late 1980s. (Glory Days Magazine photos/Dave O’Sullivan) “The girls respect her a lot. They realize that the league we are in, especially in (the American Conference), if you don’t play year round you’re going to have a tough time beating those teams. Traditionally, our players don’t play year round, so they look to Megan. They do the best they can. It’s not for lack of effort. The girls behind her do the best they can and they are trying their best, they are just not on the same level with experience as the teams they are going up against. It’s been a tough year, but the good thing for Meg is she was a part of that team that went to the South Jersey Group 4 championship, so she has tasted success,” Grimes added. “Now we are on the other end of the spectrum, but I told her when she moves on to the next level she’s going to be really battle tested and there won’t be too much that bothers her (in college). A lot of girls play on teams with great players and they don’t really have to come across too much adversity. I think, looking at the big picture, she has a very positive future ahead of her.” Grimes said he pulled Megan aside in the preseason and explained to her that while the team is in rebuilding mode, it would be critical for Megan, as the star pitcher, to set a good example for the younger players and to always show a positive attitude no matter what the situation. “I took her aside and told her this was going to be a tough year. But the good thing is, we have some young players. Her sister is coming in as a freshman next year and she’s a good player, and all the girls on the team now are getting invaluable experience, so we’re going to be a better team next year. I told her she has two years left and that this was going to be a tough one, but if we stick together we can start to turn this thing around for her senior year. We have a couple of seniors who are trying to help us get better for next year, and we try to get better every game,” Grimes said. “It’s impressive when most of our games end via the 10-run rule where there’s only 12 or 15 outs, and she’s striking out 10-plus batters. Other coaches know. They make comments to me on the side. They know the situation we are in and the kind of player Megan is, so she’s getting noticed, which is nice.” Deja Vu Megan and her mom have had similar career paths on the softball diamond. Margie really started coming into her own as a junior, she said, much the same way Megan is now. The difference is, Margie didn’t even start pitching until she got to high school, where as Megan has been training as a pitcher since about age 9. Megan has been receiving personal pitching instruction from Michelle Schlichtig, a former two-time All-American at Rutgers-Camden who coached for six years at Haddon Heights before taking over as Rutgers-Camden’s coach in 2014. “I was a lot more wild. I had the wild-pitch record when I first started. There weren’t as many camps and opportunities to learn, so I used to videotape other pitchers in the conference, and that’s how I learned to throw a drop and a rise, just by watching other pitchers. Softball wasn’t that big back then, but there were some powerhouses, like Millville,” Margie said. “I was very wild at first, but then I started finding the plate. My brother (Roy) would catch for me. It came with time, but it took a lot of practice. My junior year, I started coming into my own a little bit, and by my senior year I was finding the plate a lot more and my fastball was really coming along.” Margie decided to enroll at Camden County College after graduating from Atlantic City in 1989. She pulled her grades up and then attended Georgian Court College, where she became an All-American. “I was recruited to a couple of Division I teams when I was at Camden County College, but I wanted to stay close to home,” said Margie, a lifelong Ventnor resident who is a teacher in the Ventnor school system. “I was nervous being away from my family. The coaches (at Georgian Court) saw something in me and really pushed me academically as well as in sports.” Star in the classroom Megan’s academic prowess is what impresses her mother the most. Megan carries a grade-point average well above 4.0 and is in the top 10 among students in the junior class at Atlantic City. Margie said she still marvels at how Megan can balance her studies with playing softball for Atlantic City as well as her travel team, the Marlton Thunder. “I tell her all the time that she has her own path and has so much going for her. The thing I’m most proud of is, academically, she’s at about a 4.3 GPA. It’s ridiculous. I didn’t have that, so having that complete package of athlete and student can take her places that I’ve never been to. So that, to me, is the best. She’s also been hitting great, and that’s a piece of the puzzle I didn’t have,” Margie said. “She’s pretty amazing. She’s a really good kid. Teachers that she’s had in the past, teachers she has now, coaches, they all talk about her; she’s just that kid who is extremely coachable, she’s great in school. We couldn’t be more proud of her.” Her parents say Megan is as much a role model off the field as she is on it. “She never got a detention. She was called to the office once, but that was because they wanted to tell her she was in the top five of her class,” Margie said. “She has really good time management, and I told her that will really help her once she gets to college, especially if she plays softball in college. She maps her week out with all her school work and her games.” “She just got her license, and every stop of the way where she goes she will text us and let us know she got where she was going,” said her father, Glenn. “It’s like Jim Carey in that movie ‘Liar, Liar’ where he couldn’t lie. She always tells me the truth, and that’s nice because it lets us trust her that much more. As good a softball player she is, she’s an even better kid.” Becoming a leader Megan said she was nervous about being on the varsity team as a freshman, but she did well. She pitched several games when Taggart was injured and got to be a part of that inspiring playoff run. The tables have turned, however, as now the Vikings are trying to recover from the graduation of most of those players from the 2014 season, and Megan is a key component in that process. “It was a little intimidating. I felt like I was the baby, and that there was a lot of pressure on me because the team was really good and we ended up doing really well. It was really cool to come into and see the winning,” Megan said. “Now, it’s a learning process. We’re getting better with each practice. It’s been hard, but everyone is working really hard and everyone has been very positive, so that environment makes it easier. When I was a freshman — and even last year — when people were getting on base, I couldn’t even get out of an inning. But now, I just try to push through. In the beginning, I threw mostly fastballs, but now I have a good range of pitches. (Coach Grimes) said I need to be strong mentally, and that everyone is trying their best and that I just need to take it one batter at a time.” While the young Vikings have struggled, record-wise, Master has been one of the better pitchers in the league this season, averaging more than 10 strikeouts per game for Atlantic City. While the young Vikings have struggled, record-wise, Master has been one of the better pitchers in the league this season, averaging more than 10 strikeouts per game for Atlantic City. It shouldn’t be that surprising that Megan, 17, is blossoming into a leader on the field. She’s the oldest of four Master children (Katie, age 14, Ryan, 13, and Matthew, 10) so naturally she is used to being in a position where she is looked up to in order to set the right example. She’s also become a much better pitcher in the past two years, relying less on just a fastball and more on her knowledge of the game. “I think she has grown tremendously. Not only the physical motion of throwing the ball, but understanding spins and understanding how to attack a batter,” Margie said. “When she gets down or something happens on the field, she keeps her composure. She’s really matured a lot in the past year.” Her stoicism on the field gets under her father’s skin at times, but her mom said that’s just her nature. She’s very calm and collected, and her demeanor inside the circle has become a security blanket of sorts for the rest of the team. Still, her father said he would love for her to show more emotion during games, but maybe that’s just the dad in him talking. “It would drive me crazy at times because I’d like to see more emotion, but it benefits her so much now,” Glenn said. “Watching her, you wouldn’t know if there is no one on base or if it’s bases loaded. She’s very even-keeled, and that’s because of her temperament. I think that really helps her get through certain situations. But she’s always been like that,” Margie said. “She internalizes a lot. You don’t see much (emotion) out of her during the game. After games it comes out a little more because she will tell us how she was feeling during certain moments, but you really don’t see that during games.” Megan said she doesn’t mind the comparisons to her mother. They have very similar pitching motions, and Megan said trying to beat some of her mom’s school records motivates her to do her best every time she steps inside the circle. She’s already beaten mom’s record for strikeouts in a game (16) when she fanned 20 batters in a season-opening, 10-5 win over Cape May Tech. “The team played really well that game, and it was nice because everyone contributed by making plays and hitting the ball,” Megan said. “I really liked that game. “I feel a little bit of pressure. I feel like I’m trying to be as good as her, but it’s cool trying to follow in her footsteps. She was really good, and just watching her I learned a lot about having composure. I just try to take it one pitch at a time and one batter at a time,” Megan added. “I think everyone is always very positive, cheering each other on, so it makes it easy to be able to accept that we’re not perfect, and we’re working on getting better. Everyone is really supportive. I think by the end of next year I want to see the development of our team, and I want to try to beat some more of my mom’s records.” Family matters Megan and her parents have a great relationship, she said, and she relies on the support she gets at home to help her stay positive after tough losses. “We are really close. I’ve always looked up to her. She’s a great person to be around and is always so positive all the time,” Megan said of her mom. “I don’t know what I would do without her. The support (at home) is always there. They come to every game, they are very positive through the rough times with softball or anything else.” “I’m just happy for her because she has put so much time in. She’s been working so hard for so long that it’s nice to see her getting some recognition for all of her hard work. She really does put a ton of time in,” Margie said. “Atlantic City isn’t an EHT or an Absegami, but the girls are working so hard and it’s nice to see the positive coming out.” “Her mom was in a very similar situation. They didn’t win many games, and she was basically the best pitcher that Atlantic City has ever had. Megan’s giving her a run for the money with statistics. She’s really giving her mom a run for the money,” Grimes said. “I give (the family) a lot of credit for sticking it out. They could have said Megan’s just going to play travel ball, but she’s helping out our school and representing Atlantic City High School well. She’s along for the ride with me, and hopefully things will improve this year and heading into next season.” Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays [adsense]

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