Blades Blazes Trail for Softball

Before Courtney Blades-Rogers became an All-American softball pitcher at Southern Miss, no pitcher in NCAA history had ever struck out as many as 500 batters in a single season.As a senior in the spring 2000, Blades-Rogers, fanned 663.

She practically rewrote the NCAA softball record book, which is why Blades-Rogers tonight becomes the first softball player ever to be inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

You could make a case that no athlete in Mississippi history has ever had a greater impact on one athletic program than Blades-Rogers had on USM softball. Back then, USM didn’t even have a softball stadium, and yet the Lady Eagles advanced to the College World Series in both her junior and senior seasons.

The numbers sound like they are coming directly out of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. After transferring from Nicholls (La.) State to USM for her junior season, she proceeded to strike out 497 batters, setting a new NCAA Division I season record, eclipsing Michelle Granger’s previous mark of 484, set in 1993. Her 43 wins, 0.99 earned run average, 318.0 innings and 22 shutouts set all new school records. The victory total was the fourth best ever in the NCAA annals and led the nation that year.

She was just getting warmed up. She won 52 games, another NCAA record, as a senior, setting the career strikeout record in the process. She pitched two perfect games that season, including a 1-0 victory over the No. 2 ranked Arizona Wildcats, who led the nation in hitting that season. USM finished third in the College World Series, still the highest ever finish for a Mississippi softball team.

“I was very fortunate, but I also know that I worked very hard,” Blades-Rogers says, when asked about her success at USM. “I really think that I had a great team behind me. Coach (Lu) Harris called the pitches so she made that easy for me. I still talk to each and every one of those players to this day.

“I’ve heard people say that the program was built around me, but I know that everyone on that team worked hard and was responsible for the accolades I got and the success we had as a team.”

USM played its “home” games at a youth league field in Oak Grove, just west of Hattiesburg. Blades-Rogers turned those games into happenings. The bleachers might have held a couple hundred fans, but hundreds more brought lawn chairs, pulled up pickup trucks and surrounded the fences.

“To show up and see more than a thousand people in a setting like that was just unbelievable,” Blades-Rogers says. “It prepared me for pitching before 10,000 in the College World Series. What I remember is so many young girls. I remember staying for three hours after the last pitch, signing autographs and giving pitching lessons. We really got to know our fans, our community.”

Blades-Rogers, a native of Baton Rouge, also met her husband, USM baseball pitcher Chad Rogers during her days in Hattiesburg.

Blades-Rogers, who had played for Team USA in international competition between her junior and senior seasons, had several opportunities to continue her softball career post-USM.

Instead, she dedicated herself to family life. She and Rogers are the parents of two children, living in Daniel Island, S.C. When she’s not parenting, Blades-Rogers gives pitching lessons.

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