Sitting in the Howard High dugout, likely for the last time, Lions senior pitcher Ally Wieman looked out at the field where she first started playing softball five years ago and reminisced on her softball journey.
"I actually played on this field a lot in the rec league," Wieman said. "I didn't even have a full wind up. I just flicked the ball to get it to the plate."
Wieman has mastered her windup since her rec league days, meticulously working on her craft to establish herself as one of the best pitchers in the county the past two seasons. After a breakout junior campaign where she went 8-3 with a 2.76 ERA and earned a first-team all-county nod and Player of the Year considerations, Wieman bested those numbers by going 11-4 with a 1.52 ERA this spring.
But even more impressively, she carried her team in a crucial final four-game stretch with a county championship on the line. She went 4-0 with three shutouts, gave up just one run, 14 hits and struck out 31 batters in 24 innings to lead Howard to a share of the county title.
Because of that ability to step up when it mattered most, she also has now earned the accolade that eluded her last year, being named the Howard County Times/Columbia Flier Player of the Year.
"I said, 'Look we are headed neck and neck [in the county race], can you go every day? We need you to go.' And she said, 'Absolutely,'" recalled Howard coach Chuck Rice. "She carried us for the majority of the last third of the season with her pitching. I am glad she was able to get the reward of Player of the Year."
For Wieman, Player of the Year honors was a goal all spring, as she spent countless hours at Reapers Den improving both in the circle and at the plate in an effort to cement her status as the best player in the league.
"We always had a goal in the back of our head, go get the Player of the Year," Wieman said. "But in the beginning of the season I told my dad, 'OK, we're not talking about Player of the Year until the end of the season,' but it was in the back of my mind."
Wieman, who will play at Frostburg State University next spring, admitted she never thought she would be in contention for this type of accolade when she first started softball as a seventh grader. Although she was a natural — tall, lanky and left-handed — she didn't start to take the game seriously until she had a conversation with her cousin and pitching coach Karen Kries.
"I went to the gym in Catonsville just to work out pitching and she was there," Wieman recalled. "She came up to me and was like, 'You can do that flip pretty fast, but you should try the windmill.' So she was the one who really got me into pitching. The one who was like, 'Go out there and wherever the ball goes, just let it fly.'"
Wieman took Kries' advice to heart and slowly fell in love with the position. After making junior varsity as a freshman, Wieman was moved to varsity the following year and was prepared to be an immediate contributor. However, after getting diagnosed with mononucleosis half way through the season, her sophomore campaign was all but lost.
"I felt like I lived in the doctors office that week actually," Wieman said. "That weekend I remember was just awful … and Wednesday probably I got the news I had mono. I was just disappointed."
After missing most of her first varsity season, Wieman was prepared to redeem herself the following year. She joined the Maryland Chill with fellow Howard County standouts Rachel Jacavage (Long Reach), Patty Drumheller (Atholton), Rylee Kinsella (Mt. Hebron) and Meghan Holquist (Mt. Hebron) under coach Bo Vicendese. Wieman credited Vicendese and the time she spent with Holquist, a two time all-county selection at catcher who joined the team around the same time, to her development.
"[We] really learned the pitching and catching side of the game together," Wieman said. "The way she worked on her game day in and day out really motivates me."
Along with joining the Chill, Wieman started working with pitching coach Jack Crandel and spent endless hours at Reapers Den with Crandel and her dad to perfect each pitch.
"That was always the goal, just come back and pitch the way I did and junior year, I think, is where I really matured and I didn't realize I really matured," Wieman said "Everything came together and something clicked."
Although Howard already had a No. 1 pitcher in all-county senior Jamie Bahrijczuk, Wieman quickly became the Lions’ ace, as Rice handed her the ball in some of Howard’s biggest games. None was bigger than an early season match up against the Vikings who came into the season favored to land atop the county standings.
When she found out about the start, Wieman went a mile down the road from her home to Howard, brought along Crandel and worked on her curveball for hours, unsatisfied with the results.
“I started to cry, because I was like, ‘Oh my gosh this is the biggest moment and my curveball isn’t working today, what am I going to do tomorrow?’” Wieman recollected. “And I remember just sitting here like 7 p.m., 8 p.m., it was hot, it was muggy, it was humid, and he just told me to go out there and pitch. Just go out and fire your hips you can get that ball across and you’ll be fine. I felt like such a baby, just crying here but I got it done.”
The next day Wieman stepped up and produced a three-hit gem, while striking out six batters in a convincing six-inning 11-1 victory. That win — which also solidified her status as one of the counties premiere pitchers — Wieman said, was one of her favorite memories on her home field.
“It was my first real big moment to shine and I didn’t realize it was one of my biggest moments until afterwards really,” she said. “After it I was like ‘Wow we did beat them [11-1].’”
Wieman excelled in the starting role the remainder of the season. She allowed 28 earned runs and struck out 54 batters in 71 innings of work to help the Lions clinch the county championship. Although she was recognized as one of the top players in the league, she was driven to prove she was the best heading into 2017.
"I alluded to her last year that she just missed Player of the Year and it has driven her to become the best she could possibly be," Rice said. "I thought, personally, she deserved it last year."
Wieman was determined to improve her batting average and continue her success as a pitcher in her final stint with the Lions.
The result? She led the league in ERA, wins and strikeouts while allowing just 82 hits and 20 earned runs in 92 innings pitched. At the plate she batted .377 with 26 hits, 15 runs, 25 RBIs and added three home runs, two of which came at home against rival Long Reach in her first career multi-home run game.
“What is so frustrating is from coach Bo, coach Chuck, my dad, since I was in seventh grade was, ‘You have so much power. You can hit the ball.’ And I never hit home runs and it was so frustrating,” Wieman said. “It was either striking out, or popping out and then this year I think I found more of myself hitting.”
But bigger than her numbers this season was the leadership she brought as the only senior on a young team that lost three all-county players, returned four starters and had six freshmen to the squad. Wieman was hesitant at first but embraced her responsibilities as a senior captain and helped guide the Lions' young talent.
"At first I was like, 'Oh gosh what does this captain role consist of?' But [co-captains] Shanya [Gordon] and Katie [Unkle] are great. Katie led the infield and Shanya led the outfield, so really I just went out and did my job and they did their job," Wieman said. "We all just meshed as a team, which I don't think I've been on a team in high school that meshed so well."
Wieman credited her past teammates and captains Steph Yarrish, Berit Batterton and Rachel Oliver on setting a positive example.
“I think they really showed me the ropes on how to do it. I think coming in as a sophomore being so young with all these older girls I really learned from them and it was cool to give what I learned to the six freshmen who came up this year,” Wieman said. “I hope I fulfilled that role, what it’s like to be a team player and what a good captain looks like.”
Wieman garnered respect from her teammates and the underclassmen responded by dedicating the year to their lone senior.
"Since it's Ally's last year, we're trying to get her as far as possible, make this year the best out of all of them," said Gordon back in March.
Although Howard's season was cut short for the fourth straight year by Sherwood, Wieman said she believed it was a great last run. More important than the wins was the tight relationships she formed with her teammates.
Knowing the season was going to end at some point, it was still an emotional end following the loss to the Warriors.
"We were shaking hands and I was second to last with [freshman] Paige [Eakes] behind me, and all of the sudden I hear all these sniffs and then I just lost it," Wieman said. "In that moment it was just unforgettable."