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Saugus' Mariah Lopez: Sooner than later

Promising Saugus freshman committed to Oklahoma, fulfilling lifelong dream

Posted: April 8, 2013 11:17 p.m.
Updated: April 8, 2013 11:17 p.m.

Just days after turning 15, Saugus freshman pitcher Mariah Lopez was offered a five-year scholarship to play for the University of Oklahoma beginning in the 2016 season.

 

Ask your typical high school freshman where they want to attend college and you’ll be lucky to get an answer.

Ask Saugus freshman Mariah Lopez, though, and you won’t hear any hesitation.

That’s because the 15-year-old softball pitcher doesn’t just have a dream school in mind; she has a five-year athletic scholarship waiting for her.

In 2016, Lopez will be an Oklahoma Sooner — currently the nation’s No. 1 ranked team.

It’s a dream come true for the Centurion.

She’ll follow in the footsteps of former Foothill League greats Jessica Shults of Hart and Britney Williams of Canyon, who are both currently at Oklahoma and helped the Sooners reach the Women’s College World Series championship game last season.

But first, she hopes to follow them in another endeavor — tearing up the Foothill League.

Without even throwing a pitch in Foothill League competition, Lopez is being mentioned by opposing coaches as a legitimate threat to lead the Centurions to their second league title in three seasons.

That might seem like a lot of pressure for a freshman to handle — but Lopez isn’t like most freshman.

Speaking with the maturity of a collegiate athlete and nearly pitching like one, too, Lopez has been electric during the preleague season.

She has tossed 42 2/3 innings in 10 appearances and boasts a 5-1 record and 0.49 ERA.

“She’s just a very special kid,” says Saugus head coach Julie Watson. “You would think she is a senior the way her presence is and the way she commands her pitches and the ball.”

Getting to this point hasn’t come without sacrifices, though.

Lopez plays travel ball in Orange County — that means long drives, lots of work and little down time.

“There aren’t a lot of kids who can do what she does,” says her mother Valerie Lopez. “Because she is mature and she’s very driven and I think that’s from within. I don’t know that you can teach that.”

But it was all worth it when she heard the words from University of Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso.

The offer came on Jan. 10, just two days after her 15th birthday.

“I honestly broke down crying. That was honestly what I have been working for my whole life,” Lopez says. “Finding out they were going to give me a five-year scholarship as a freshman — I was shell shocked.”

One person who wasn’t shocked, though, was her mother.

Valerie says her and her husband never thought they would let their daughter commit to college at such an early age — that was the right choice for some kids, but not their daughter, she thought.

She had interest from high-profile schools such as Florida (currently ranked No. 3), Washington (No. 17), Arizona (No. 19) and Fresno State.

But there was something about Oklahoma — it just felt right.

“It’s kind of corny but I’ve told Mariah this one time — I didn’t want to say it too much to get her hopes up — but I always felt like that was her fate. as crazy as it sounds. But as a mom, I said ‘That’s where she’s going to play.”

Now the question is, how do you keep a 15-year-old with a full ride to college focused on the next three-and-a-half years of high school?

“I think because it’s so fun for them,” Valerie says. “For (Mariah), seeing the older girls on the team, they play with a lot of heart. Every time they practice they say you’ve got to practice like you’re playing against Valencia. She’s like, ‘I don’t know what that feels like yet.’ She’s desperate for that feeling. She wants to know what that adrenaline is like playing against your big rival, and that’s the key. She’s having fun with it.”

That feeling won’t be a mystery for long.

Lopez takes the circle today in the Centurions’ Foothill League opener against Valencia.

Let the game’s begin.

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