Abby Marlow’s impact on the New Athens High School softball program was apparent almost as soon as she pulled on a varsity jersey.
The Yellow Jackets have won 77 games in the four years since, including their only three 20-win seasons. Marlow was credited for 56 of those victories from inside the pitcher’s circle, helping herself along the way by batting a career .459 with 115 runs driven in.
But her influence on that shady diamond just a few blocks from the banks of the Kaskaskia River is beyond statistical.
“She is everything you want out of all your players — great student, great athlete, great person — and has been from the beginning,” said New Athens head coach Conrad Widdersheim. “She might have been a little quiet at first just because it’s hard for a freshman to step in with more experienced players, but her work ethic and focus were contagious.
“They were a huge reason for our success these last four years.”
We realized as a family that if I wanted to get recruited, I had to get myself out there a little more. Now college coaches come to my select (team) coach and say ‘where has this Marlow girl been all this time’?
Abby Marlow, BND Small School Softball Player of the Year
Marlow did it all for New Athens in 2016 and was the near-unanimous pick among metro-east softball coaches as the Belleville News-Democrat Small School Player of the Year.
At the plate, she batted .464 with seven home runs, 30 runs batted in and 17 stolen bases. In 153.7 innings in the pitcher’s circle, she struck out 220 batters to craft a 21-4 record and a 1.18 ERA.
For the second year in a row she was named first-team All-State by the Illinois Coaches Association. New Athens also was represented on the all-state class 1A list by second-team shortstop Alina Lance (.495, 38 runs, 23 stolen bases) and third-team third baseman Sophie Cooper (.400, eight doubles, two triples, 21 RBIs).
Marlow also earned a national honor in March as the MaxPreps/NFCA High School Player of the Week.
Her career has mirrored Widdersheim’s first four season as head coach at New Athens.
“Abby’s greatest value to our team was for her pitching,” said Widdersheim. “That takes nothing away from her hitting — she’s been our best for four years — but what she can do in the circle at the high school level was just dominate teams. It’s been easy for me to just hand her the ball and say ‘OK now, you’re our workhorse.’ Now that she’s gone I’m going to have to come up with another way.”
The Yellow Jackets’ 22 wins this spring tied a school record Marlow helped set just last season and their six losses were the fewest since the team went 3-5 in 1976.
The season ended the same as the previous two, with losses in class 1A super-sectionals.
21-4 Marlow’s won-loss in 2016
1.18 earned run average
220 strikeouts in 153.7 innings pitched
.464 batting average
7 team-high in home runs
30 runs batted in
“I definitely wanted to go out with a big bang my senior year, so it was disappointing,” said Marlow. “But there is absolutely no regret. We played hard and getting to the super-sectional at all is a really good accomplishment. They were competitive games so it’s OK that we didn’t get to state.”
Still, it doesn’t escape Marlow that had the Yellow Jackets’ defeated Trico at the DuQuoin Super-Sectional and advanced to state, it would have been her grappling with Hardin Calhoun and senior Grace Baalman in the first state semifinal game. Baalman, who will be pitching at Kentucky University next year, battled through 17 innings to defeat Trico, striking out a state-record 39 batters without a walk along the way.
“She’s an amazing pitcher, it would have been fun,” said Marlow.
Marlow instead got an earlier-than-desired start on her summer softball season with the Collinsville Extreme, where she joins four others who earned mention on the the BND All-Area Team for large schools. She’s the only one of six metro-east players who’s not from a class 3A or 4A school.
She takes a spot in a pitching rotation and plays both middle infield positions and some outfield.
As is increasingly becoming the case with elite high school prospects, Marlow was most heavily recruited during her summer season.
“We played in a really good conference and completed against a really good schedule but, definitely, I think college coaches look at 1A players and think ‘how good can they be,’” said Marlow, who is in Denver, Colorado, for a softball tournament. “We realized as a family that if I wanted to get recruited, I had to get myself out there a little more. Now college coaches come to my select (team) coach and say ‘where has this Marlow girl been all this time?’”
She is everything you want out of all your players — great student, great athlete, great person — and has been from the beginning.
Conrad Widdersheim, New Athens head softball coach
Just prior to her junior season, Marlow committed prior to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and Cougars’ head coach Sandy Montgomery.
Montgomery, in general, says she is drawn most to three-sport athletes because of their advanced athleticism. For her part, Marlow was second on the basketball Yellow Jackets her senior year with a 10.4 points-per-game average, a team-high 34 three-pointers, and led the volleyball team with 283 kills.
“Abby is very athletic, has good size and you can see she has room to make herself stronger,” said Montgomery, who just completed her 28th season at SIUE. “The plan for Abby coming in may not be what it ends up being. She’ll get some opportunity pitch, but it’s like I tell our players, ‘if you can hit, you’ll play.’”
The Cougars have not had a losing season since 1994. They won an NCAA Division I-best 43 games in 2015, a year after making their first NCAA Tournament appearance. SIUE finished 28-26, but reached the Ohio Valley Conference championship game as the tournament’s no. 4 seed.
Marlow, an exercise enthusiast, plans to study for a career in athletic training while at SIUE. Whatever she has to do to make an impact with the Cougars is fine with her.
“I don’t really define myself as either a pitcher or a hitter,” she said. “The biggest concern for me is helping my team and getting playing time. I plan to be an annoying freshman who works as hard as possible and tries to make a name for myself. Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it if it means a couple at bats or a start here or there.”