The Tech softball team has a handful of star players that have helped lead the team to a 34-7 record and a perfect 11-0 record at home. Most of Tech’s major contributors come from blue-chip prospects like sophomore pitcher Hope Rush or freshman third baseman Alysha Rudnik. However, Tech has other players, such as junior left fielder Shannon Bear, who have come in unheralded and worked their way into the lineup.
Bear was not a top recruit coming out of high school and was not even offered a scholarship from Tech. Only Division II schools had taken a look at her while at Grayson High School, but Bear forgo a scholarship opportunity in order to come to Tech and walk on the softball team.
As with any sport, being a walk-on in softball as seen as being just a role player who is just out there to fill up a spot on the roster. Normally, this stigma holds true and is hard to break, but not for Bear.
“[Bear] has always come in and worked hard. She is one of those types of kids where she is not going to sit there and make excuses. She know what she needs to work on and will fulfill any role,” said Head Coach Sharon Perkins.
Perkins had heard about Bear when she was playing in travel ball. Although she could not offer Bear a scholarship out of high school, she obviously liked what she saw.
“[Bear] was just our type of kid. You want them to be successful academically and produce on the field. She was one of those kids that you just have to take a chance on,” Perkins said.
Bear’s skills in travel ball and high school got her noticed by at least one Division I coach, and it did not take long for Perkins to find a use for Bear’s vast skill set. Bear was the main pinch runner for the Jackets in just her freshman season likely because of her speed. She pinch-hit a number of times in her sophomore season, likely because of her potential at the plate She is also listed on the roster as a utility man, meaning that she could play a wide array of positions.
With those skills at her disposal, it was just a matter of time before Perkins found Bear a spot in the everyday lineup.
“[Bear] can play outfield, infield or come in and pinch hit… [her versatility] has been huge for her. You know we lose Jen Yee, then there is a second base position open. We loose an outfielder and then there is an outfield position open,” Perkins said.
While her skills and versatility may have gotten her a walk-on spot at a Division I program, Bear will be the first one to tell you that those were not the only things that got her more at-bats this year.
“I never felt like a walk-on, but I knew coming in that I would have a different role on the team. I knew that I would have to work 10 times harder than anybody else to earn a spot,” Bear said.
Her hard work paid off.
Bear is now a starter on the Tech softball team and has started 12 more games so far this season then she did in her first two years on the team. Before her junior season, Bear would hit eighth or ninth in the games she started, but she now has seen time in the three spot and has found a home in the sixth spot in the order.
“[Bear’s] bat was one of those that kept hitting, so it was a situation where we had to find her a spot, and it didn’t matter where it was,” Perkins said.
Perkins truly had to find a spot for Bear somewhere in the order if Tech has any hopes of repeating as ACC Champions. Bear is hitting .321 this season and has nine home runs and 31 RBIs compared to just four homers and nine RBIs in her first two seasons combined.
“This offseason, I worked really hard on my hitting because that is what I needed to do to get in the lineup full time, and I just got better with all the problem spots with my swing…I got my timing a lot better and I did get a little stronger, so that helps too. I also started swinging a heavier helps so that is always better,” Bear said.
Now that she is in the starting lineup, it would be easy for Bear to just settle into a role and let the high number of at-bats influence her stats. But that is not good enough for her. She wants to be successful in anything, even in obscure areas that one would not expect from a player who is used to hitting in the third spot in the batting order.
“Sacrifice bunts: I want all of those to get down. [I want to] push runs across, and I think that is what really counts instead of batting average because that does not really do a lot for the team,” Bear said.
The stigma of a walk-on will always follow Bear when she walks to the plate. However, it will not be the negative stereotypes that apply to so many other walk-ons, it will be the hard-working attitude with emphasis on the fundamentals that make Bear one of those special types of players.