COLUMBIA — Before coming to Columbia College, freshman catcher Stephanie Schultz had been catching for the same pitcher since she started playing softball.
Schultz became so familiar with that pitcher, she scarcely needed to use signs. That pitcher was her identical twin sister, Jodie Schultz, who is a utility player at Columbia College.
“By her looking at me, she knew which pitch I wanted to throw,” Jodie Schultz said. “We could just read each other real well.”
When the sisters first started playing softball, they each played pitcher and catcher. When their traveling team was at tournaments, the two would swap positions between games.
Then, as they got older, Jodie Schultz gave up catching and Stephanie Schultz quit pitching.
The duo led Highland High School to an undefeated season and the Class 2 Missouri State Championship in 2005. Jodie Schultz was the winning pitcher in that game and her sister was behind the plate.
“We had the little twin thing going in high school,” Jodie Schultz said. “It was definitely one of the best softball experiences of my life.”
After their high school careers, the Schultz sisters were faced with choosing a college. Neither had ever played on a softball team without the other, and their friends and family all assumed they would go to the same college.
But the twins wanted to make their college choices independently, which they did, sort of.
“I don’t think we really thought we were going to go to the same college,” Jodie Schultz said. “But then it just happened that we both really liked this college.”
So they decided independently to do the same thing. It is a phenomenon that has become familiar to the sisters and their Columbia College teammates.
They wear the same clothes to class. They say the same things at the same times. They even make the same choices in the cafeteria at lunch. And they do all of it accidentally.
Last week, the entire team decided to wear different colored socks to practice. The Schultz sisters showed up each day wearing the same color.
Stephanie Schultz and Jodie Schultz have never been bold enough to try to impersonate each other. But that doesn’t mean that their teammates don’t get confused about which one is which, especially when the twins are wearing similar clothes.
Senior pitcher Katie McMahon said she couldn’t tell the difference until they showed her a trick. Stephanie Schultz has a scar on her forehead that Jodie Schultz doesn’t.
“I have to, like, go around and look at their head,” McMahon said.
Jodie Schultz has seen limited action this season as a utility player, but coach Wendy Spratt commended her attitude and hitting ability.
“I definitely look for more things to come in the future for Jodie,” Spratt said.
Since Jodie Schultz is not pitching at Columbia College, Stephanie Schultz had to get used to working with some different pitchers this season.
Stephanie Schultz and freshman pitcher Valerie Teter had played together on summer teams each of the past three years, giving Stephanie Schultz an idea of how to call Teter’s pitches.
“I think a lot of times it takes a little while, at least the first part of the season, to get in sync with a catcher,” Spratt said. “Since they have been pitching and catching together for a long time, they know what each other is thinking.”
But Columbia College’s other pitcher, McMahon, had never played with Stephanie Schultz before this season. In the past, Spratt has had senior pitchers on her teams who have struggled to adjust to working with a freshman catcher. For McMahon, the transition was easy.
“She just kind of stepped in and she’s done an amazing job,” McMahon said. “She’s a really good catcher. She just knows what she’s doing.”
McMahon has developed enough trust in Stephanie Schultz to relinquish some of the control over which pitches she throws. In past seasons, McMahon called more than half of her own pitches, but this season she has only called about a third.
Each of the pitchers gave some of the credit for the awards they received this season to the hard work of their catcher.
Teter, who was the American Midwest Conference player of the year, finished the season with a record of 17-5. Her earned run average was 1.01, and she struck out 208 batters. McMahon, who was the conference pitcher of the year, was 17-4. She had a 1.32 earned run average and 143 strikeouts.
Stephanie Schultz has also been solid defensively, especially for a catcher. She has an impressive .995 fielding percentage.
When the Cougars start the Region V Tournament as the top seed today in Springfield, Mo., Stephanie Schultz said she will be nervous about her pitch calling.
“If a girl gets a hit, I think its part my fault because I called that pitch,” she said. “I would like to take that pitch back and maybe throw a different one and see what would have happened.”
Of the seven other teams in the regional tournament, Columbia College has already faced four of them, with a combined 11-1 record in those games. That record includes three wins against the team’s opening round opponent, William Jewell.
The winner of the regional tournament receives an automatic bid to the NAIA National Tournament, which starts May 16 in Decatur, Ala. The national tournament is composed of the 14 regional champions as well as six teams that receive at-large bids.
Like the rest of her team, Stephanie Schultz’ goal for the regional tournament is simple.
“Win regionals,” Stephanie Schultz said.