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Shephard signs with Southern Utah

by Chuck Smock

Douglas pitcher Lori Shephard has accepted a softball scholarship to play at Division I Southern Utah University in Cedar City.

Shephard, who pitched 29 of 33 games for the Tigers last spring, helped Douglas make the zone tournament, where the team fell one game short of advancing to the state tournament.

“I’m really excited,” Shephard said. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to get to go to Division I, and now I’m getting the chance.”

Southern Utah head coach Laurel Simmons is entering her second season with the Thunderbirds. She admits she inherited a program that wasn’t very strong, but fully expects her team to be competitive in the Mid Continent Conference this spring.

And she will be counting on Shephard to help with the turnaround.

“We’re real excited,” Simmons said. “Picking up Lori is such a success for us. It’s a bigger deal than people think when you find a kid from out of state. It takes a lot of work.”

Shephard is one of four freshmen coming into the program this fall. Simmons hand-picked the younger players for their potential to play throughout the next four years. She also loaded up on junior college transfers to kick-start the program’s competitiveness.

Shephard and another freshman from Las Vegas will be called on to handle most of the pitching duties, Simmons said. The roster will include a third pitcher who transferred from a junior college but is penciled in to play third base.

“Lori is coming into a situation that is the best for her,” the coach said. “She won’t be riding the pine. I’m so excited about the mentality she has.

“A lot of people ask me if it scares me to have two freshmen pitching at the Division I level. It doesn’t scare me to put a freshman out there. They’re 18 years old. At least if they get rocked they’ll get over it.”

Shephard said she’s looking forward to the opportunity to contribute from the beginning of her career.

“That’s what I wanted to do,” she said. “I wanted to go in and play. I didn’t want to sit on the bench for two years, waiting for older players to graduate.

“It will be nice to walk away in four years when we have an awesome team and say, ‘I helped build that.'”

The Thunderbirds’ new coach has experience building a softball program -and she did it without the ability to recruit. Simmons, who played softball at the University of Utah, started the program at Copper Hills High in West Jordan, Utah. Within three seasons, Copper Hills was among the top five teams in Utah’s largest high school division.

“It’s amazing how quickly things can turn around,” she said. “What I want to emphasize with Lori is this is a kid who can fit in with our program. She has enough guts to come into a program that is a little down, but has high expectations.”

The coach added that she liked Shephard’s competitive nature, her stamina and her ability to throw strikes.

“In college softball (pitching) is not all speed, speed, speed,” Simmons said. “What I was impressed with about Lori is she can hit her spots and she has control.

“What I think about her is she is a diamond in the rough that has not even touched her potential. She has fully admitted she has never pushed it to the limit.”

The Thunderbirds will practice 20 hours each week during the fall. They will also lift weights three days per week during the off-season.

Southern Utah will open the spring season on Feb. 6 at UNLV. The Thunderbirds will play tournaments in San Jose, Calif., and in Las Vegas in February.

The proximity of those tournaments – and the school – to the Carson Valley helped Shephard make her decision to attend Southern Utah.

“One of the most important things is that I’ll be close enough for my parents (Terrie Ann and Scott Shephard) to get a chance to see me play,” she said.”They’ve always supported me and they were always my number one fans. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t even be having this chance.”

The Mid Continent Conference champion gets an automatic berth into the NCAA regionals, which is one step away from the college World Series.

“We feel like if we get the right kind of kids, we’re going to have a shot,” Simmons said.