Freshman manager plays big role for MU softball team

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 | 11:02 p.m. CDT
Lance McMahon pitches to the entire Missouri softball team during practice at University Field on Tuesday, March 22, 2011. McMahon is a freshman at MU and this is his first year as a student manager and batting practice pitcher.

COLUMBIA – One pitch gets hit for a deep home run to right. Another is a shot to center field. Then a ground ball between second and third.

Pitch after pitch results in hit after hit.

Missouri softball coach Ehren Earleywine is happy about that. And he’s especially happy with the guy on the mound.

Freshman Lance McMahon works as a manager for Earleywine. McMahon performs a number of duties for the team. But his most important is throwing batting practice.

“Your team can’t be good without a good BP (batting practice) pitcher,” Earleywine said. "You just can’t hit. You can hit off tees and front toss and pitching machines all you want, but that could never be the equivalent of what Lance provides for us.”

McMahon has been throwing softball pitches since he was a child. He has two older sisters who played softball for Columbia College. Katie, a pitcher, was a two-time NAIA All-American as a Cougar.

“Whenever I was 9 or 10, she (Katie) was teaching me,” McMahon said. “I would go to her pitching coach every Saturday morning at 5:30 in the morning to catch her. And then I would show him. I’d be like, ‘Look what I can do, I can throw too.’ And he said, ‘Wow, you’re really good for your age. You should keep up with this.’”

McMahon kept playing softball for fun, but said he didn’t think too much of it. His focus was on baseball. He was a pitcher, which prompted his teammates to question which of his throwing motions was more effective.

“All my friends made fun of me. ‘You can throw underhand better than you can overhand,’ all that kind of stuff,” McMahon even admitted, “It actually probably would be pretty close.”

Baseball and softball were still opposing forces during McMahon’s senior year at Knox County High School in Edina when he was deciding where he would go to college.

“I was debating on if I wanted to go play baseball at CMU (Central Missouri University) or come here,” McMahon said.

At the suggestion of his parents and his high school’s softball coach, McMahon e-mailed a few colleges about possible managerial scholarships. He didn’t expect many responses, though.

“I figured I’d get one from Columbia College just because I know coach (Wendy) Spratt and basically the whole program over there. But I got one about two weeks later from coach Earleywine saying that, ‘Yeah, I do offer a scholarship for a batting practice pitcher.’”

Earleywine set up a date for McMahon to visit Missouri so he could evaluate him.

“I had him come down here in Devine (Pavilion) one day with his parents. He threw to me, and I knew that it was going to be just what we needed,” Earleywine said. “I walked him around campus and talked to him a little bit and he decided to come.”

When McMahon began working as a manager for the team, not everyone warmed up to him as quickly as Earleywine. Some of the players were skeptical.

“I didn’t like him when he came in,” senior Rhea Taylor said. “I just felt like he was going to be really annoying, so I had this preconceived notion of him. I was like, ‘Oh my God, we have another BP pitcher.’ All the BP pitchers in the past have been subpar except for (assistant coach) Pete (D’Amour).”

Then Taylor saw McMahon throw.

“I was like, ‘Hmm, this is pretty good.’ So after a while I started talking to him more at practice and when he came on trips with us. He’s pretty cool. I like hanging around him.”

Talk to any of the players on the team, and that seems to be the consensus. They don’t say they like McMahon or think he does a good job as a manager. They say they love having him around. He’s part of the family.

“He’s in the dugout with us, he helps with any duties you ask him to, he’s funny. If you’re having a bad day he’ll make you’ll laugh,” pitcher Chelsea Thomas said. “He’s just like a brother, that’s exactly how I’d put it.”

Because he is a freshman, McMahon is treated more like a younger brother. Senior Catherine Lee said he puts up with more than his fair share of abuse.

“We love giving him a lot of crap,” Lee said. “He handles it. He takes it. Being around 22 girls all the time is not easy, so he’s a champ.”

It’s not all one way though. Taylor said McMahon isn’t afraid to dish it right back. According to Taylor, they “go back and forth roasting each other.”

But when McMahon steps on the mound during practice, the jokes stop. Maybe because he doesn’t have time to tell any.

“We counted it up. He throws anywhere between 500 and 600 pitches a day in batting practice to our team,” Earleywine said. “That’s a tremendous sacrifice physically for him. I mean this from the bottom of my heart, if you don’t have somebody like Lance, you’re in big trouble.”

McMahon is learning on the job too. The two basic pitches in softball are dropballs and riseballs. McMahon has the dropball down. Now, he’s working on improving his riseball in order to help the team.

“The Achilles’ heel of not just this team but most teams is hitting the riseball. It’s the toughest thing in softball to do,” Earleywine said. “He (Lance) throws dropballs and it’s very good for you to have a dropball pitcher because usually those are real nice strikes to hit. So that’s been the basic foundation of who Lance is and what he provides us. But lately we’ve been saying, ‘Alright, Lance, we’re not doing so great against these riseball pitchers. We need for you to spin a few rise in practice.’”

D’Amour, who specifically coaches pitchers, has been working with McMahon to develop consistency with his riseball. D’Amour used to throw batting practice before McMahon arrived. Now that McMahon’s around, D’Amour has more time to work on his other coaching duties. Not to mention a much less sore arm.

“I can concentrate on the pitchers in the bullpen instead of being out on the field throwing BP for hours a day,” D’Amour said. “My body likes it too.”

McMahon never seems to stop pitching. Even on days when he’s not scheduled to throw hundreds of pitches at practice, he’s still willing to go out on the mound and toss pitch after pitch.

“You can text him and say, ‘Come to Devine in five minutes,’ and he’d be here ready to pitch to you for an hour or however long you wanted,” Thomas said. “That’s helped a lot this year with all of their hitting.”

Maybe that dedication is what has made Missouri’s offense such a force this year. Ten of the Tigers’ 21 wins have come by the run rule. They even put up 10 runs in the first inning against Western Michigan last weekend.

D’Amour said he certainly thinks McMahon has played a part in that productivity. And Earleywine said he couldn’t ask for a more devoted manager to be in that role.

“Any time somebody contacts me about being a manager, the first thing I say to them is, ‘Before you get too excited about this, this is a very demanding position,’” Earleywine said. “A lot of times they’ll go, ‘Whoa, I just kind of want to hang.’ Well, then you’re not the manager for us because our managers put their time in.”

Then there are those managers like McMahon — the ones who put in bonus time.

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Alicia Myers March 23, 2011 | 10:18 a.m.

I too, thought Lance was annoying the first time I met him! LOL But then I got to know him, and he made my day better every day! I am very proud of this young man! He is invaluable as a worker, has more work ethic than any kid I know. He will go far!

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judy shultz March 23, 2011 | 10:42 a.m.

Lance is a former student of mine and he has always been very motivated in anything he was involved in. He is still one of my "FAVS" (Love Ya Lance) and I know he will accomplish whatever it is he plans in his future.

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