Starmount’s ace pitcher makes it official with Chowan
BOONVILLE — Courtney Groce officially won the starting pitcherâ€™s job at Starmount High School after the first practice of her freshman season back in 2009.
But Rams coach Heather Courts knew well before then that Groce had the potential to be her teamâ€™s ace.
â€śI knew it before she got here. I had that plan in already,â€ť Courts said. â€śWe brought her in as a freshman and had huge expectations for her. She has met them and gone beyond them.â€ť
Heading into this Fridayâ€™s rematch with county rival Forbush, Groce owns a 71-16 career pitching record. She holds the Rams single-season record for innings pitched (165 in 2010), strikeouts (216 in 2009) and ERA (0.55 in 2009). Sheâ€™s threatening the schoolâ€™s career marks for innings pitched, strikeouts and total batters faced and should pass each before graduation.
Earlier this week, Groce added another accomplishment to her already impressive softball resume â€“ college signee.
Groce made a verbal commitment to Chowan University back in the fall and recently followed up on that commitment by signing a binding letter of intent. Chowan is a Christian university of about 1,300 students located in Murfreesboro in the northeastern part of the state. The Hawks compete at the CIAA level and have fielded a successful program in recent years.
Groce said she connected with the coaching staff and players at Chowan and really likes that itâ€™s a small school environment â€“ a roughly 15-to-1 student to teacher ratio.
â€śItâ€™s basically like Starmount, a small school like that,â€ť she said.
Groce got on Chowan coach Amanda Baldufâ€™s recruiting radar after attending a camp at Campbell University. The two communicated by email, and Groce gave the school her verbal pledge at the start of this school year. â€śI really like it up there. Itâ€™s like home,â€ť she said.
The Starmount pitcherâ€™s circle has been like home to Groce the past four springs.
She made a big splash there right away, winning 17 games as a freshman against only two losses. The Rams shared the Mountain Valley 2A Conference title and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs.
In that second-round game, Groce and the Rams went toe-to-toe with two-time defending state champion Central Davidson before falling 3-0 in 11 innings. Groce threw all 11 frames, striking out seven and giving up only seven hits (with no walks). Central Davidson featured one of the stateâ€™s best-ever pitchers in Chelsea Leonard, who ended up at Louisville.
As a sophomore, Groce guided the Rams to an appearance in the 2A state championship series in Raleigh. She won 27 games that season and lost just six. Groce was 16-6 a year ago, though Courts spread some of the pitching duties around to other players at times.
This season, Groce owns an 11-2 record in what has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the spring season. She is one of only two starters returning from last yearâ€™s team, yet Starmount once again finds itself among the league leaders in the MVAC.
Groce is a big reason, providing steady leadership from the pitcherâ€™s circle. All told, sheâ€™s compiled 540 career strikeouts at Starmount and holds a career ERA of 1.65.
Her honors include all-conference recognition for three years, all-district and all-state status in 2010, and all-district again last spring.
Over the past four years, Starmount has posted an 82-20 record with Groce as part of the lineup. This year she is getting to hit quite a bit more. Through Tuesdayâ€™s game against Wilkes Central, Groce boasted a .364 batting average with three doubles, three RBIs and 21 runs scored. Sheâ€™s usually setting the table for others to come behind and clean up.
â€śI didnâ€™t think I would do that good,â€ť Groce said, reflecting on her high school career. â€śI didnâ€™t expect any of this.â€ť
Groce has been playing softball since she was five years old. She first joined a recreation team coached by Chubby Cave, who has been a Starmount softball assistant for several years. Groce took to pitching right away and has been comfortable front-and-center ever since. She has played for multiple travel teams, including the Diamond Girls, Carolina Cardinals and Carolina Attitude.
Coach Cave said one of her biggest pitching strengths is her movement. She has good velocity on her fastball to go with it.
Coach Courts likes to say that the saddle is worn out from riding Groce so hard over the past four seasons. She truly has been the programâ€™s ace.
â€śEvery time she has stepped on the mound for us I have never had a fear that we would get beat,â€ť Courts said. â€śMost of the time if we did get beat, it was because somebody actually had to beat us or because we made mistakes behind her.â€ť
Groce and the Rams still have some unfinished business to attend to this season. Despite Tuesdayâ€™s loss to Wilkes Central, Starmount remains in the thick of the MVAC title chase with West Wilkes, Wilkes Central and Forbush. A solid finish could give the Rams some home games for the state playoffs. Dare the team dream about another trip to Raleigh for the Final Four?
â€śI am very proud of the fact that she is moving on and I know she is going to do good things once she gets (to Chowan),â€ť Courts said. â€śShe is going to get a new saddle. This one is going to be worn out. We just hope she keeps wearing this one at least until June.â€ť