By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: SU pitcher Brea Bishop delivers a pitch from the circle. Feb. 24. Emma Reider photo
Through her 22 seasons coaching Salisbury University softball, SU Head Coach Margie Knight has seen many players come and go as they embark on their journey into adulthood and a career.
Knight’s coaching journey has brought her to many stops too including multiple on the Eastern Shore. Prior to her Salisbury career, the Catonsville, Md. native coached high school softball and volleyball at North Caroline High School in Ridgely, Md.
Coaching for the Bulldogs across 13 years, Knight accumulated nearly 400 combined wins alongside three total state championships, with two coming in softball. In 2018, her past at North Caroline and present at SU are connected through a family she has coached: The Bishops.
“My mom told me how awesome of a coach she was, and I just wanted to experience it for myself too. It was a big influence,” SU freshman pitcher Brea Bishop said.
Alongside being named the 2017 Bayside North Player of the Year, Bishop recently was a key part in North Caroline’s run to a Maryland 2A state title. Her high school success and experience set her up well her a career at the collegiate level.
The Greensboro, Md. native decided to stay near home though with the Sea Gulls and Coach Knight. Brea’s mom Paula Bishop (then-Simpson) had experienced Knight’s coaching in the past with the Bulldogs.
“Paula played back on our 1988 first state championship team,” Knight said. “Paula was a really good competitor. She also played volleyball for me. What a wonderful compliment or full-circle for me that Paula thinks enough of me to allow her daughter to play for me 30 years later.”
Bishop says that her mom specifically remembered how tough Knight was, trying to push her players to become their very best in order to succeed. Those qualities brought Bishop to SU to wear a maroon and gold uniform this spring.
With 28 innings already under her belt, the freshman has seen exceptional time already this season. Knight says that Bishop’s time in the circle is the most for a freshman since former Sea Gull Rachel Johnson.
Johnson made 106 starts in her four-year collegiate career, marked by a 1.16 ERA and 1,073 strike outs, a strong comparison for a new collegiate pitcher For Bishop, it was initially tough to adjust to the college game, utilizing her past to capitalize in the present.
“Just remembering how I overcame the struggles [at the high school level.] It’s definitely different here at college,” Bishop said. “The batters are more disciplined. I’m just trying to keep my focus.”
Knight says that Bishop does not give up any freebies to her opponents, she makes the batters work. The head Sea Gull notes that she doesn’t mind giving up a hit or two in each inning as long as the pitcher and fielders control the situation.
To control those improved batters, Bishop aims to continue keeping her opponents in the batter’s box off-balance and on their toes. That’s something Knight sees Bishop doing in the circle during each outing.
Despite an early 4.50 ERA to this point, Bishop has allowed only eight walks and 35 hits. While the freshman adjusts to the college game, Knight sees great potential in the former Bulldog’s future.
“I think Brea is really gonna be an asset for us,” Knight said. “She’s got some pitches that no one else has. Her movement is very different from our current staff. I think that makes her a real asset. I also think that she keeps batters off-balance.”
One unit aiding the Sea Gulls this season is their deep pitching staff with three other experienced pitchers. Sophomore Alexis Layton transferred in from nearby Washington College while junior Shannon Powell and senior Rachael Milligan returned from last season.
Bishop has taken in their performances and experience in order to succeed herself, even gaining some tips along the way.
“The older pitchers told me to just keep my calm, stay focused and try to do my best,” Bishop said.
After spending the first 22 games in the friendly confines of Sea Gull Softball Stadium, Bishop and the rest of the Sea Gulls will have to stay focused as the move into a heavily road-based conference play stretch.
“It’s gonna be different not playing on our home field for the first time, but I think our mentality is going to be the same,” Bishop said. “We’re gonna go out there and try our hardest and play to our best ability.”
Working under her mom’s former mentor and coach should aid that next small challenge in what could be a long and successful career in the circle for Bishop. Knight says this case of coaching a mother-daughter tandem is not the first time it has occurred.
Each time it occurs it reminds Knight of how long the journey has come and how many lives she’s impacted, part of why she will be headed to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Hall of Fame in the upcoming December.
“I think that speaks volumes that her mom thinks a lot of me. I think Brea’s not so frightened of me anymore,” Knight chuckled. “It’s great.”
Salisbury (16-10, 3-3 CAC) continues Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) play this week with double-headers at Southern Virginia (10-16, 2-4 CAC) on Friday and at Frostburg State (13-9, 2-2 CAC) on Saturday.