MENOMONIE — One more at-bat was all UW-Stout’s Mary Iliopoulos says she needed to break the WIAC single-season batting average record.
She still thinks about it.
“I’m like ‘dang,’ one more at-bat and I would have the No. 1 batting average in the conference instead of tied for it,” Iliopoulos said.
It’s interesting that Iliopoulos says she needed just one more “at-bat.” It’s almost as though getting a hit is a given. And she’s right — well, half right. She went 49-98 for a .500 batting average last season, tying Stout’s Suzanne Brion’s 1996 conference batting average record.
What’s more impressive, is she did it hitting on her unnatural side.
Growing up in Morton Grove, Ill., Iliopoulos was a right-handed hitter. At the time, she was nowhere close to being a star. But she tried out for a travel softball team and the coaches joked that if she wanted to be on the team, she had to let them turn her into a lefty.
It was a joke that Iliopoulos took seriously.
“I had the speed to be a slapper (hitter), so I was kind of up for the challenge,” Iliopoulos said. “I wasn’t a very strong right-handed hitter, so I thought it might be a good advantage.”
And, as Iliopoulos added casually, “it seems to have paid off so far.”
It certainly has.
Coming out of high school, Iliopoulos was a two-time all-conference player and an Illinois High School Association scholar-athlete. Her exceptional skills earned her a scholarship to play at Aquinas College, a Division II NAIA school in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
After her freshman year in Grand Rapids, Iliopoulos had a change of heart. She decided she didn’t want to pursue her major in mathematics and began looking elsewhere to become an engineer.
Stout happened to offer the mechanical engineering program that she wanted and had the added bonus of having then-second year head coach Becky Iaccino running its softball program.
Iaccino was an assistant coach on Iliopoulos’ 16U travel softball team and was part of the reason she switched to become a left-handed slap hitter. The two worked together for a few years in high school until Iliopoulos started college. Transferring to Stout offered Iliopoulos a friendly face with whom she could continue her softball career with.
For Iaccino, it was a great surprise. Stout was coming off an 18-24 year in 2017 and Iliopoulos added a new dynamic threat that already knew how Iaccino wanted to run the program.
“I loved it,” Iaccino said. “To have her as a part of what I’m trying to develop and grow and cultivate, I knew that it was going to help this program grow, having someone that has been coached by me and that knows who I am and what I’m trying to accomplish.”
Last season, Stout went 23-12, with Iliopoulos leading the team in hits, runs, total bases and on-base percentage.
Iaccino called Iliopoulos a “triple-threat” player.
Her skills at the plate are astounding. In a doubleheader against UW-Stevens Point last season, she hit safely in her first seven at-bats and finished the two games 8 for 9 with three RBIs and four runs. On the base paths, she’s a thief, stealing bags on 23 of 24 attempts.
However, her softball skills are not what impresses Iaccino the most.
“First thing is her heart,” Iaccino said. “She’s the heart of our team. Her work ethic, her desire to always be better than yesterday, and her drive to build the team and bring the team up is one of the best things that Mary brings to the table.”
Looking back on last season, Iliopoulos said she never thought about her batting average. She says she thinks being relaxed allowed her to flourish.
This year, she entered the season with Fastpitch News 2019 Preseason DIII Second Team All-American team honors, but she’s not thinking about repeating or topping her conference record. Once again, she just wants to stay relaxed and confident at the plate.
So far this year, she’s hitting .471 in 20 games, but if you’re as confident as she is, a few more at-bats and another .500 season could be on its way.