The sophomore, who was Coastal League Pitcher of the Year as a freshman, prepares barbecue chicken just to her liking, and creates her own cheesecake.
“She cooks all her own food,” says her dad, Joe, who is lingering nearby as his daughter is interviewed on the Bishop’s softball field prior to a big non-league matchup against Granite Hills.
At the time of the reporter’s visit, her father points out, Maier is leading the county in strikeouts from the pitcher’s circle, as well as home runs at the plate.
“I discovered the weight program (at Bishop’s) last year as a freshman,” says Shelby, who is named after the performance car. “It has helped a lot in my upper and lower body.”
The curve (to right-handed batters) and drop (to left-handers) specialist throws in the mid-to-upper 60s. She showed in her outing against Granite Hills, at the time the number-two team in the county, that her pitch speed, from a scant 43 feet from the plate, requires a split-second decision on the part of batters.
Maier, hounding the strike zone and pounding the lumber (actually, aluminum, but it sounded nice), is probably the tallest Lady Knight on coach Art Schiele’s side of the diamond on the Hunte Fields on campus.
Facing hitters, she looks a little like a caged animal, pumping intensity and anxious for the next pitch. She paces, trying to weather out the ride as Bishop’s, sporting a combination of travel ball stars like Livy Schiele, the Division III CIF Player of the Year last year in centerfield, and herself, along with classmates just in it for the school softball season and the camaraderie, takes some lumps from the high-ranked Eagles.
Maier’s private pitching coach, Jason Iuli-Kinsey, is also an assistant of Schiele’s. Going through the Granite Hills batting order, Iuli-Kinsey is a constant presence next to the backstop, sitting on a barrel and flashing pitch calls to his catcher, freshman Jaya Travis.
He has told his standout hurler the day before that, despite the talent of the opposing lineup, he is going to have Maier try out her changeup, which is her weakest pitch next to her curve and 12-to-6 drop, on a regular basis during the game. Already having mastered her speed pitches, the right-hander and her coach want to add the off-speed pitch to round out her repertoire.
An intense competitor, Maier smiles and tries to slough it off after an Eagles batter slaps a changeup into right field in the opening frame. It’s not the pitch she would have called, but in a non-league game this is the time to work on it. Meanwhile Dad, who with his daughter was the first arrival at the field two hours prior to game time, is tense, living every pitch. “She has to get through this,” he says when base runners get on again in the second.
Pressure has been there ever since the young pitcher began to show Division 1 potential. The University of Georgia commit accepted a scholarship before her freshman season even began. Did that ease the tension?
“For about four or five minutes,” says Joe. “Then they told her she has to continue to improve, and keep her grades up, or it could all go away.”
Schiele, prior to the game, reveals that he may follow his own talented daughter, the Lady Knights’ leadoff hitter, who hit the ball for a 0.611 batting average last year, to watch her play at the University of Auburn next year. She was named to the All-CIF First Team last year. “I haven’t fully decided if I’m staying” after this season, said the fifth-year coach. I brought in Jason to take over the program (whenever I leave). Then I can just enjoy watching my daughter play.”
The Lady Knights’ arsenal also includes third baseman Halle Coleman, a junior and one of the team captains; shortstop Alex-Rose Molinar, a freshman committed to play softball at Boston University; and Travis.
For Maier, playing with her classmates is a break from the high-stakes pressure and competition of travel ball.
“I found it’s a time when I can just play the game just the way it was meant to be.” “Funsie,” her dad chimes in. “For fun,” she continues “to play with my classmates.”
“There is more of a sense of togetherness than competing for a spot” on her school team, she says. Still, the Lady Knights have won the Coastal League the past three years, all three of Livy Schiele’s high school career. In the Granite Hills game, Maier and her teammates kept the Eagles from scoring after the early innings. Then, in extra innings, Schiele delivered the game-winning walk-off hit.
When she’s not pitching, Shelby enjoys playing first base, though with the school team’s makeup, sometimes she has to defer. “I like playing on the field, able to cheer on our pitcher,” she says. “I feel like more of a supporter that way.”
When hitting, “It’s a frame of mind,” she says. “Just try to hit the ball as hard as I can. This power I’ve had so far—it’s a new thing.”
She committed to the University of Georgia last school year. “I just really like the campus and the ranches nearby,” she says. “I’m into the rolling pasture and silence.”