April 29, 2015
By: Steve Cotton
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Elicia D'Orazio was still several months short of her 18th birthday when she arrived at Marshall as a member of the Thundering Herd softball team last summer. She was a full year shy of her next younger teammate.
Scary? Intimidating? A challenging move from Clermont, Fla., to Huntington?
Not in the least.
For D'Orazio, the fact most of her teammates are three or four years older isn't unusual at all. It's actually more normal than much of her athletic career has been. After all, how many people have competed on the world stage against athletes three times their own age?
D'Orazio's father, Peter, is a Florida official in the United States Specialty Sports Association, a softball governing body, and coached her teams from the beginning until she was in high school.
From the time she played her first season of T-Ball when she was four years old, it was evident that Elicia needed to be challenged well beyond her natural age group, a difference that was magnified when she skipped the first grade.
"By the time I was 8, I was in a league with 12- and 13-year-olds," D'Orazio said. "Part of it has been just how competitive I am. I don't like to lose and I wanted to play on teams where it was important to everyone else, too, which meant playing up in age where my teammates were more serious.
"It always gave me motivation, too, because those girls often looked down on me because I was younger and I liked proving that I could be successful against them."
She continued to play up in age so that, when she was 13 she found herself on the field against the Puerto Rican Junior National Team (19 years old and under), which had contacted her father to set up some scrimmages as it prepared for the world championships.
"I caught that game and threw a couple of their runners out, and I was the only one on our team who really hit the ball," D'Orazio said. "After the game they got to talking and found out I was only 13, which really surprised them."
More significantly, they learned that her mother, Ann, is the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, which makes the Herd second baseman eligible to play for the Caribbean commonwealth in international competition. The only downside was that she wasn't eligible to try out until she was 15.
"So eventually I was invited to Puerto Rico for what they call the Fast Pitch Cup, which is basically a showcase event watched by the national coaches," D'Orazio said. "We played and then they started to cut players and we ended up with 10 of us who were added to the Junior National Team."
Despite being among the youngest players at that summer's World Championships in Brampton, Ontario, D'Orazio starred as an outfielder who served as the leadoff hitter in every game.
As the tournament came to a close and she prepared to return home, a call from the coach of the women's team sent her instead to Oklahoma City and the World Cup.
She'd been "called up" to the big club.
Not just to be on the team, but she played right field and batted ninth in the order in her first game. The next time out, against Team USA, she hit leadoff.
"That was awesome, I'm 15 years old and I'm playing against girls that I'd grown up watching play on TV," D'Orazio said. "Michelle Moultrie, Lauren Chamberlain, Amber Freeman -- that I was standing on the same field playing against them was one of the coolest feelings I've ever had.
"So we played Team USA and I hit leadoff and started the game with a double off Sara Nevins. My next at bat I hit a grounder to short, but I beat it out. They got me out my last at bat, but there it was ... 2-for-3 against Team USA."
She was -- and remains -- the youngest player in the history of World Cup softball.
D'Orazio has been a member of the Puerto Rican National Team ever since, competing at the world championships in Amsterdam last summer. This year she plans to play for both the junior team at the world championships in Canada and the big club for the World Cup in Irvine, Calif.
While all this was going on, D'Orazio was still a high school student at Montverde Academy, west of Orlando. That's where she caught the eye of Marshall Coach Shonda Stanton at a Disney Classic event.
"The first thing I noticed was her defense," Stanton said. "That stood out immediately. "She's one of the most pure infielders I've ever seen play the game.
"She fields the ball like a Major League Baseball infielder, low, with her back parallel to the ground and her eyes behind the ball, and her hands are incredibly smooth. She's one who can always make the routine play, makes the difficult plays look routine and then every once in a while make the highlight play."
Her skills jumped out to coaches far and wide, and by D'Orazio's junior season she was a first-team all-state selection and the Lake County Athlete of the Year. Many schools, including Florida State, vied for her services.
But Marshall had been involved early, her father was already familiar with the school; he had been friends with the late Johnathan Goddard, Marshall's All-America defensive end and soon to be MU Hall of Famer.
"My dad is still close to his family," D'Orazio said. "When they heard that I was talking with Marshall they were excited about that and told me all about the school's history and the community and support Marshall has.
"That eventually made us decide to visit during my junior year of high school -- Dad and I both came up here -- and we loved it. I knew from that time on that this was where I wanted to go. I took other visits to places like Florida State, South Florida and others -- but from the time we visited Marshall, I knew it was the place I should be."
So, now you know why it was no big deal for the 17-year-old to join Marshall last summer -- 20-year-olds are not so intimidating when you've hit against a Dominican Republic pitcher who's 36. A woman on the Japanese team is 46.
When Marshall opened its season against Army on Feb. 6 at a tournament in South Carolina, D'Orazio -- not long after her 18th birthday -- played second base and hit third.
She went 3-for-5 with a stolen base, two runs scored and two RBIs in a 10-4 Thundering Herd win. Later that day she stole two more bases in a 3-1 win over the College of Charleston. She's held that spot in the Marshall lineup since then.
Entering this week, D'Orazio had a .368 batting average and 22 stolen bases for a team that has already shattered the school record with 146 steals this season -- a number that led the nation.
Along with sophomore Morgan Zerkle and junior Kaelynn Greene, the top third of the Marshall lineup had a combined batting average of .443 with 94 stolen bases and 119 runs scored through 45 games (33-12).
"(Stanton) gives me the leeway to be aggressive on the bases, which is exactly how my dad always coached me," D'Orazio said. "She says, `If you see that base open, just take it. Whether I've given you the sign or not, if you can get it, get it.'
"It's so much fun when we're driving teams crazy on the bases. When Morgan, Kaelynn and I are out there running around, teams get frustrated. The coaches start yelling at their players about us, the catcher drops her head, the pitcher throws up her hands and the shortstop is wondering what just happened.
"We're taking bases that other teams don't even try. The pitcher walks too far out of the circle, we take off. We get to first base and notice that nobody's paying attention at second, we don't even break stride and, bang, we're at second."
Added Stanton: "I let her do that because her instincts on the bases are second to none. You can't teach speed and she has that, but it's also hard to teach instincts and she has both."
With her freshman season winding down, D'Orazio is looking forward to returning to the Puerto Rican team for the summer. She'll be thrilled though, if her international summer is delayed by postseason play for the Herd.
"School (softball) comes first," D'Orazio said. "We have a lot of Division I players on our team, girls from LSU, USF, all over, so our coaches work around our college schedules.
"If your team goes to the NCAA Tournament and keeps advancing, that's just fine. When your season and school are over, then you immediately fly to Puerto Rico and join the national team and start working with them.
"Hopefully I don't go there too soon."
This column, by veteran play-by-play voice Steve Cotton of the Thundering Herd/IMG Sports Network, also appears in this week's edition of Herd Insider.