Editor’s note: Our head coaches have been invited to submit one nominee for the MLT Athlete of the Year from their team from the past school year. The Murray Ledger & Times will open an online poll for the readers to choose one athlete from each school (Calloway High School, Murray High School and Murray State). Keep reading our series and watch for the opportunity to cast your vote.
MURRAY—Last season, Murray Ledger and Times Athlete of the Year nominee Hannah James became the first player in Racer softball history to throw a seven-inning perfect game and just the second player in program history to earn OVC Freshman of the Year.
It all began at an early age for James, and she found a way to challenge herself by playing against older kids.
“I started (playing) when I was 4 years old, and I started in T ball, and I’ve always played with the older kids because my sister is two years older and I’ve always been on her team playing with the older kids,” James said.
During her time in high school, James was a dual sport athlete in high school at East Jessamine in Nicholasville, Kentucky, playing both basketball and softball. This was more of a strategic move than anything because she realized the importance of staying active.
“I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t the best (at basketball); I just did it to stay in shape and to have something to do in the wintertime,” James said. “I definitely think it helped, mostly with just staying in shape, because I was in really good shape by the time it got to softball season, so I could make it through pitching every game.”
As a senior in high school, she recorded her 1,000th career strikeout, made Class 2A All-State team, was named 2018 Class 2A Player of the Year, and even earned a nomination for Gatorade Player of the Year.
“It meant a lot to me when I found out because I know how big of a thing that is, just to be nominated, so that just meant a lot to me,” James said.
Softball allowed James to pursue a college career in athletics so her senior year included a huge decision on where she wanted to continue her career as she moved to the collegiate level. James said the decision to join Murray State was an easy one.
“Whenever I went on my visit, I just instantly felt like I clicked with the team and the coaches and I just loved the campus and I just thought it would be a really good fit for me,” James said.
Coming to Murray State provided a new set of challenges for the freshman hurler, but she stepped up in a big way, leading the team in innings pitched, wins, and earned OVC Freshman of the Year honors.
“Coming into my freshman year, I didn’t really expect to have such a big role on the team,” James said. “But as the year progressed, I realized I had to step up and try my best to help be a leader on the team since I figured I’d be doing a lot of pitching, so I just had to step up a lot throughout the year.”
It was a season to remember for James with a college career-high 10 strikeouts in a game against Tennessee State and Ball State, and she pitched nearly nine innings against North Alabama. Those moments pale in comparison to one game for James, though: the perfect game against Belmont on March 31.
“Leading up to the game, Coach K (Amundson) gives us a scouting report for every team, so we know what to expect going in,” James said. “During the game, I didn’t realize it until probably the fifth inning and I was just trying not to mess it up the whole time. I was just trying to throw strikes and let them put it in play and let the defense work behind me.”
She even made a few defensive plays herself to keep the perfect game alive.
“During the perfect game, I remember a line drive right back at me and that’s probably the only time I have and ever will catch a ball like that,” James said.
The perfect game goes into the Racer history books, and James will forever have her name there as the first pitcher to throw a seven-inning perfect game.
“It’s not something I was expecting to do in any means, but I’m glad that it happened,” James said.
One of the main factors to that accomplishment was the ability for James to pound the strike zone. Throughout the season, she struck out 120 batters and only walked 29.
“I definitely worked on letting fewer people on base, but something I’ve always been good at is being able to throw strikes and be really consistent,” James said. “I don’t blow it by people, I just throw an average speed, so I just try to throw strikes and make it go where it is supposed to.”
This nominee could be making a second appearance next year, but right now she’s just excited to get back to work.
“I’m excited to have a new team and now I will know what to expect going into conference play,” James said. “I’m excited now and hopefully I’ll know a little more about who we are playing and do even better next season.”