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Hart grad Jessica Shults ends college softball career with national title, turns pro

Posted: July 17, 2013 7:03 p.m.
Updated: July 17, 2013 7:03 p.m.

Hart High graduate Jessica Shults is playing professional softball with the USSSA Pride after winning a national championship with the Oklahoma Sooners in June.

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As catcher Jessica Shults squeezed the final strike of the 2013 NCAA Women’s College World Series championship game, a wave of emotion overcame the 2009 Hart graduate.

It was the culmination of four years that saw Jessica Shults rise to become one of the best catchers in the nation.

“It was pretty much a storybook ending,” she says. “It was an awesome way to go out. To end your senior year, to go out and everything the senior class had gone through, it was awesome to win a national championship with that group of girls.”

Few on the team had gone through more than Shults to get to that point.

She missed a portion of her sophomore season after being diagnosed with pan ulcerative colitis, a devastating medical issue that left her sitting in a hospital bed while her teammates were participating in the postseason.

“You couldn’t write a better script than that, being the roller coaster ride it was,” says her father, Bob Shults. “Great freshman year and gets sick her sophomore year, we’re watching the games from a hospital room — a lot of tears.”

The illness didn’t keep her down, though, as Shults rebounded to return during the College World Series in 2011.

She again helped the Sooners get to the World Series in 2012, and the Sooners advanced to the championship series before falling in three games to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

This year, things went a little bit better for Oklahoma.

The Sooners responded late in game three after Tennessee took a 3-0 lead in the 13th inning off the bat of fellow Santa Clarita Valley native Madison Shipman. Oklahoma scored five runs in the bottom half of the inning to win the game 5-3, and closed out the series with a 4-0 victory the next night.

“The highest ever,” Bob Shults said of where he felt the moment ranked for Jessica. “I never expected to see that kind of emotion over softball, but I think all the years of playing just culminated in the pinnacle of everything. All the times we spent in the backyard yelling at each other, all the ups and downs, it couldn’t have been any better than it did.”

Much like in 2011, though, events off the diamond took precedent in Shults’ life this season.

Shults says in the days after a devastating tornado hit Moore, Okla., the Sooners traveled to help their displaced neighbors.

Those eye-opening moments helped the team, which played the entire season with a target squarely on their backs after losing in the 2012 championships series, stay grounded and push on.

When Oklahoma finally arrived at the College World Series in Oklahoma City, tornado warnings forced organizers to delay the tournament a day.

“This year was kind of showing us the bigger picture,” Shults says. “That there’s more than just softball. We were so stressed out about softball, and we’ve got families that lost everything. It was a wake-up call. We shouldn’t be stressing out on softball and (instead) be there for the families.”

Along the way, the Oklahoma graduate was drafted by the USSSA Pride of the National Pro Fastpitch League, a professional women’s softball league that currently features four teams.

For a proud father, it’s a moment he never thought he’d see.

“No, never in my wildest dreams,” Bob says. “I figured she would get an education, maybe. It makes me happy she’s accomplished her goals. I just like the way she turned out. She’s turned out to be a really good kid, I’m really pleased with the whole experience.”

Shults, one of three rookies on the roster, has one RBI and a home run in 21 at-bats as the team’s third catcher. She’s appeared as a catcher in five games.

“I was so excited (to be drafted). It’s been a great experience so far being with some of the Olympians on my team. I looked up to them playing with their college teams when I was younger,” she says. “It’s kind of crazy to look to the different positions on my team and know they were gold medalists at the Olympics and silver medalists. It’s crazy to know I’m playing with those girls.”

Soon, though, Shults could be the one who younger softball players look up to.

For now, she’ll continue to write her next adventure; eager for another storybook ending.

jstein@signalscv.com

661-287-5536

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