Playing sports growing up, you can usually play whatever position you want to. It’s not until later when people tend to specialize into a specific aspect of their game, be it a quarterback in football or a pitcher in softball.
Enter Shelby Wisdom, starting pitcher for the UCSB softball team. In only her sophomore season, Wisdom not only leads the Gauchos’ defense as the team’s top pitcher, but she is the team’s number one offensive force as well. With just six games remaining this season, Wisdom has compiled an astounding 39 RBIs, good enough to rank second in the Big West. She’s also first on her team with seven home runs and a .564 slugging percentage, second in batting average at .315 and hits with 47.
She manages all of this offensive production while pitching just under 50 percent of innings played this season. With 119 strikeouts, she has 77 more than the player with the second most on the team, junior Andriana Collins.
Dominating both sides of the ball is not something you see every day in college sports, but growing up with her competitive sister helped Wisdom to excel.
“Growing up, one thing that helped me a lot was always playing with my older sister — just from the competitiveness, and me having to work harder to try and be as good as the older players since I was like seven years old,” Wisdom said. “I’ve been doing hitting and pitching lessons my whole life.”
Without her sister, Wisdom may not have even made softball her sport of choice.
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably be doing baton twirling,” Wisdom said.
Because of overlapping schedules, Wisdom’s mother gave her and her sister an ultimatum.
“My sister chose softball and I chose baton, but we had to be the same so my sister overrode it,” Wisdom said.
Wisdom began making a name for herself in high school, playing on an ASA travel ball team that reached a No. 1 national ranking.
“We played together for seven years and Shelby’s always been a really great leader for the team,” sophomore infielder Jenessa Jeppesen said before singling out Wisdom’s pitching as her most important contribution to their travel team.
During her senior year of high school, Wisdom posted an incredible 0.81 ERA while batting at a .462 clip. She also took time off from her role as pitcher to play outfield and shortstop at times.
This caught the eye of two-time Big West Coach of the Year, UCSB Head Coach Brie Galicinao, who had been following Wisdom’s progress since her freshman year.
Despite not expecting to be getting starter’s playtime once she was recruited by UCSB, Wisdom was quickly given a chance to show what she could do. Again, she did not disappoint. As a freshman, she shattered the school record for strikeouts with 247, and even broke the record for single-season wins with 24.
She also showed that despite the transition to college, she could still make a big difference hitting the ball, as proven by her .271 batting average and 22 RBIs. Her efforts earned her the Big West Freshman of the Year award as she solidified herself as one of the team’s best players despite being one of its youngest.
“She’s obviously naturally talented and really athletic but she works her butt off,” Jeppesen said about Wisdom’s ability to play both sides of the ball. “She’s constantly doing extra work and pushing herself to be the best she can be, and that’s really been beneficial to the team.”
Wisdom’s impact as an all-around player is evident in her numbers, but it’s felt in more than one way on the field.
“She’s in the center of the field all the time and she sets the motion and the tempo for everyone else,” Jeppesen also said. “When she gets the big hits it inspires all of us to follow up after her and get more big hits and when she strikes everyone out it pumps us up for offense.”
This season, Wisdom has had less pitching time as she has been backed up by a more solid pitching rotation. On the other hand, her offensive stats have skyrocketed, and she has spent a lot of her time outside the circle playing outfield where she has a .947 fielding percentage.
“She always wants the ball, she practices hard, even when she’s in right field she’s usually one of the loudest players on the field, she’s just in every play and competing hard every single pitch,” Galicinao said. “Those are the kind of people that every coach wants and every team needs.”
Nevertheless, whatever position she plays or role she has, Wisdom’s number one priority is doing whatever she can to help her team reach their ultimate goal: Big West champs. With Wisdom playing the way she does on both sides of the ball, it wouldn’t be surprising to see her accomplish that goal during her time here at UCSB.
A version of this article appeared on page 5 of May 1st’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Mark Brocher of the Daily Nexus.