By Jim McElhatton
Anybody who’s ever seen a T-ball game knows it can seem more like junior gardening club at times — easily distracted 5- and 6-year-olds pass the time by digging holes in the infield dirt and plucking dandelions in the outfield.
Not Alexis Sargent, though.
From the moment she stepped on the field about a dozen years ago, her parents knew she was born to be a ballplayer.
“A couple of her friends would bring out the little blanket and have a picnic in the outfield,” recalled her father, John Sargent. “That wasn’t Alexis, though. She would race out to get to first base first.”
“Highly competitive,” added her mother, Carol Ann Meares.
Last week, the parents watched their daughter become the first softball pitcher in St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School history to record 1,000 career strikeouts. Alexis Sargent reached the milestone in the top of the sixth inning of a no-hit performance against Connelly School of the Holy Child.
While the pitching motion is entirely different, of course, the next time you hear about a multimillion-dollar Major League Baseball pitcher needing rest, think of Alexis Sargent.
She’s her team’s only pitcher. She has thrown as many as 250 pitches in an outing and averages 15 strikeouts per game this season. She has a mean fastball — as well as five other pitches to keep batters guessing — and boasts an earned run average below 1.00.
“I’ve definitely diversified and thrown a wider variety of those pitches over the games, making it harder to figure out what I’m going to do next,” Alexis Sargent said after beating Holy Child, reflecting on her four years as a starter at St. Stephen’s.
Next year, Alexis Sargent will pitch for the University of Pennsylvania. She received full-ride scholarship offers from other schools, but the chance to attend the Philadelphia Ivy League school — where she plans to major in business — was too good to pass up.
While Alexis Sargent said her interest in the sport began with T-ball, she tried out for the Washington Senators as an 8-year-old, earning a spot on the nationally ranked softball team. The coaches realized her talent, and she began pitching for the team while refining her delivery by taking weekly lessons.
After a few years with the Senators, Alexis Sargent moved on to play for the Vienna Stars, another traveling team. She’s pitched in tournaments in big cities and small towns across the country, including San Diego, Houston and Orlando. Today, she plays for the Ashburn Shooting Stars.
From her first day at St. Stephen’s, there was never any doubt that Alexis Sargent would be a starting pitcher. For three years, she’s been the Alexandria Sportsman’s Club Softball Player of the Year.
She’s been a first-team all-star for the Independent School League the last three years. And last year, Alexis Sargent also was a Washington Post first-team All-Met selection.
“When you have a player of that caliber who’s that dominant, it completely changes the game,” said Saints coach Stephanie Koroma. “You can put up four runs and easily win a ballgame sometimes, whereas if you don’t have that dominant pitcher, then four runs is going to be very surmountable.”
Koroma said Alexis Sargent has always had “good stuff” as a pitcher over the years, but she’s grown as a leader. She doesn’t have such a tendency to be too hard on herself anymore.
“She’s a great leader, a great motivator,” Koroma said. “She’s become stronger and more confident. She can be hard on herself. But she’s better able to overcome it if we give up a run or lose a game.”
Still, with Alexis Sargent on the mound, that doesn’t happen very often, though one defeat early in her high school career seemed to have a lasting impact.
During her freshman year, she was the lone St. Stephen’s pitcher in a 14-inning battle against rival school Maret. The Saints lost on a controversial play at the plate in what she called a “crushing” defeat. In a testament to her competitiveness, four years later, the game still lingers in Alexis Sargent’s mind.
“I definitely take a lot of the burden on my shoulders,” she said.
Alexis Sargent’s strikeout achievement wasn’t a foregone conclusion last week. Entering the game, she needed 14 strikeouts to reach the milestone. Family, friends, teammates and coaches cheered as she jumped to a no-balls, two-strike count against a Holy Child batter in the top of the sixth inning with one out.
“With two strikes, I wanted her to chase at it, but she looked at it,” Alexis Sargent recalled. “I told myself not to force it, and I threw it and that was it. It was very exciting”
With a called third strike, the senior had notched No. 1,000. Still, by the time the game had ended, she had a few to spare. Alexis Sargent finished with 18 strikeouts.