April 8, 2004
For Michigan State's Jessica Beech and Bryan Gale, success on the mound has become very similar for two pitchers who hail from two totally different worlds.
Beech, a senior pitcher on the softball team, and Gale, a senior ace on the baseball squad, have achieved a rare feat. In the same season, at the same school, both the softball and baseball school strikeout records were eclipsed.
On April 2, Gale recorded a career-high 12 strikeouts in the Spartans' 1-0 win over Iowa to reach the top of Michigan State's all-time strikeout list with 229. The previous record of 223 was set by Ron Perranoski from 1956-58. Gale's nine innings of work also placed the right-handed ace atop the all-time lists for innings pitched with 301.0.
At the season-opening South Florida Worth Invitational (February 15), Beech worked struck out seven Florida Gators to break the record and recorded 19 strikeouts on the weekend to break the school record. At that time, her career total of 414 surpassed Stacey Smith's previous record of 408 set from 1994-97. As of mid-April, Beech is nearing 550 strikeouts for her career.
Both pitchers are quick to admit though that they have each had the opportunity to throw much more innings than players in the past.
"It's pretty exciting to know that you are on top," says Beech, "but I have thrown a lot of innings since I have been at Michigan State, which obviously means more chances for strikeouts."
Gale is proud of his accomplishment, saying it was one of his top personal goals.
"It definitely means a lot to me," he says. "Coming out of high school, I felt that I was overlooked because I didn't throw very hard. So I have always felt like I have to go out there and prove myself. Show that small town kids can compete."
Gale is a native of Decatur, Mich., a small farm town in the southwest part of Michigan near Kalamazoo. The town hosts one fast food restaurant and only one stop light. In fact, Gale's graduating class was made up of only 56 kids.
Shattering records is nothing new to Gale, as he set the Decatur High School records for most career strikeouts (400), lowest ERA (0.79) and most career wins (44).
"Well, that's a completely different level though," he admits. "When you're playing at a small school, you don't have much depth. Your shortstop was also the pitcher. It's a completely different level of competition in college."
He's right, but it was still his pitching that sparked the interest of the Spartans. It wasn't until the semi-state game of his junior year did the Michigan State coaching staff see him pitch. He would later lead his Decatur squad to a state title. Up until that point though, Gale had not received any attention from schools the size and prestige of Michigan State. It was mostly smaller in-state schools that were trying to attract him.
Much of the reason why big schools were not coming to watch is because Gale simply did not have the speed.
"I have never thrown very hard. It's always been in the mid-80s, maybe 87-88 on a lucky day. I couldn't throw it by people so, I had to adjust."
He does so by throwing from three different angles - over-the-top, side-arm, and submarine.
Gale also knew that a country kid from a small town was not just going to come into East Lansing and take over.
"As a freshman, I just wanted pitch and be on the travel squad," he says. "Now as the No. 1 starter, I know I had to find a way to win every Friday to give us a chance to win the Big Ten. If I don't perform, it makes it tough for the team to come back and win all three games or get a split on the weekend."
Last year, Michigan State's Pitcher of the Year award winner led MSU in every major pitching statistical category, including wins (7), ERA (3.48), strikeouts (53) and innings pitched (95 2/3).
This season, Gale is the captain of his Spartan squad, which his prepared to make its run back to the top of the Big Ten.
"Everyone wants to be recognized as a leader and be respected by teammates," he says. "I wanted the opportunity to lead and I accept the responsibility to motivate my teammates both on and off the field."
As tough as it was for Gale to gain attention from Michigan State, Beech didn't have to look very hard, or far for that matter.
A native of Okemos, Mich., located just five miles from the MSU campus, Beech was sought after by both Michigan and Michigan State. In the end, the decision was easy.
"I dreamed of going to Michigan State since I was little," she says. "My whole family has green in their blood."
Similar to Gale, Beech played many positions and sports in high school. While attending Okemos High, Beech was a four-year letterwinner in softball and basketball, and earned three letters in volleyball. She led her basketball team to the Final Four her senior year, and her softball squad to four consecutive league titles and a state championship her junior year. During that year, she was 32-0 on the mound with a 0.15 ERA. Beech finished her career with a state-record 57-game winning streak on the mound, a 0.57 ERA, and the second-most hits in state history.
Not only has Beech set the school strikeout record this year, but she has also claimed the school record for career shutouts (22, set April 3), and recorded two of her three career no-hitters.
The first no-hitter came on March 5 against UC Santa Barbara. The Spartans won 4-1, but the Gaucho run was scored on a four-base error. Beech faced 22 batters in the game - one away from a perfect game.
The second came against Oakland in the Buckeye Invitational at Ohio State (March 20), where she struck out nine and walked none in a five-inning mercy-rule win.
"We have struggled with our defense this year, but in both of those games the defense made a lot of plays behind me," she says.
Beech says that last year's performance by the Spartans as really helped her along during her senior year.
"Our whole team was really successful last year," she says. "Everything we did last year was a complete team effort. Leadership was a key, and I had a lot of seniors to look up to."
Beech, who earned third-team All-America honors in 2003, also had first-year pitching coach Amanda Scott to look up to as well. A four-time All-American at Fresno State, Scott has been instrumental according to Beech in helping her focus mentally and improve as a pitcher.
"She has been the biggest influence on my softball career," Beech says. "She has the accolades of a great player, but she is a great coach and a great person as well."
Scott's efforts showed, as Beech finished the 2003 campaign with a 27-11 record. She led the Big Ten in ERA (1.25), was second in wins (27) and sixth in strikeouts (235). Her strikeout total and 13 shutouts set Michigan State single-season records, and her 27-game win total is the second-most in MSU history.
While both Beech and Gale are nearing the end of their respective collegiate careers, both are looking ahead to plans after graduation.
Beech, a psychology major, is looking to become a high school counselor and softball coach, while Gale is interested in advertising.