March 1, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - You can look in the dictionary under "workhorse," and for some reason Jordan Dixon's image isn't there.
Noah Webster must have made a mistake.
Dixon, Marshall's indefatigable arm in the circle, pitched 64 percent of the Herd softball innings in 2014 as a freshman. Last season, the Oklahoman worked 85 percent of the innings for Coach Shonda Stanton's team. This season, it's 75.2 percent for the junior.
"I want the ball every chance I can get it," Dixon said. "In high school, we didn't really have any other pitchers, so I pitched every game. Our other pitcher was a really good shortstop and we couldn't risk having her pitch and lose her at short.
"On our travel-ball team, I never got to pitch. I played outfield. So, I always wanted to play, always wanted to pitch. And when I got here, that was the mentality. I always wanted the ball. I wanted to start. If I didn't start, I wanted to finish. When you need to me to go, I'm ready to go. I want to be the one out there.
"I want to get all five games in a weekend. If I only get 4Â½, it's 'I wish I got that other half.'"
Dixon, a right-hander, was a Preseason All-Conference USA selection this winter, and why not?
She's already thundered her way into the top five or six in the Marshall career record book.
And among juniors in Division I softball, Dixon enters this weekend's Camel Stampede at Campbell University ranked first nationally in career wins (58), starts (90) and appearances (114), and second in innings pitched (584 1/3), complete games (55) and strikeouts (612).
"More and more often in our sport, you see teams looking to a pitching staff made up of 2-4 pitchers, each getting an even amount of innings," said Chanda Bell, the Herd's third-year pitching coach and a former Kentucky star in the circle. "Jordan is a rare breed these days and has been a dominant ace in the circle in her three years throwing for the Herd.
"Many people might think that it's easy to throw as much as Jordan does because our motion is less stressful on the arm. But I will tell you that what Jordan is able to do game after game is absolutely incredible. She has continually gotten stronger over the last three years and has the endurance to pitch without getting fatigued.
"And she is the type of pitcher who always wants the ball. I don't even have to tell her she's starting a game and she will head to the bullpen for warmups all on her own. In her mind, all the games are hers, and that's the kind of pitcher you want out on the mound."
Dixon, the only current Marshall scholarship athlete from the Sooner State, comes by her competiveness from her family roots. Her two older sisters played softball at Arkansas. Her three younger brothers - triplets - are wrestlers at Oklahoma.
"I'll call them after a game and say, 'Yeah, we won,' and they'll be like, 'OK, tell me when you beat so-and-so, bigger-time teams, because my sisters played in the SEC and my brothers wrestle in the Big 12 so that's a huge thing," Dixon said with a grin. "There's competition every time I go home. They don't act like anyone is a bigger deal than anyone else. Being an athlete is kind of expected more than anything.
"My mom actually home-schooled us until my sisters went to high school, my brothers and I until sixth grade. We were held back a year for sports, and pushed for softball, baseball, every single day and eventually wrestling for my brothers.
"I played baseball with my brothers until I was 10 or 11, Little League baseball. I never played Little League softball. I played the outfield in baseball. I played softball on a 10-and-under team but it wasn't a tournament team. I played tournament-team baseball.
"I didn't start pitching until my one sister played with me a little bit. Miranda pitched at Arkansas, I'd go to a lot of team practices with my sisters (Leslie was a Razorbacks' catcher) and Miranda would teach me little things, how you do this. She was my pitching coach until I was 13 and she went away to college."
Dixon, 21 and an MU political science major, is obviously a gamer, but she doesn't approach her craft thinking about finishing what she started. She said she's approached her nearly 600 career innings one at a time.
"I don't go by 'game,' I go by 'inning,'" She said. "So, I'd say if in an inning I have one strikeout, or more, that's a good inning for me. Then, I look back when the game is over. You can't really look at it as having a game.
"You have to look at it inning-by-inning-by-inning. That's how it works best for me. It's less pressure that way. If you're out there in the first inning thinking about finishing a no-hitter, you're probably not going to get it. It's pitch-by-pitch for me."
Stanton, in her 17th season guiding the Herd, relies on Dixon's competitiveness and dependability.
"Our game is called fastpitch for a reason and when you have an ace that you can hand the game ball to in any situation or conditions you feel good about your opportunity to get the win," Stanton said.
"She wants the ball and she wants it even if she already pitched seven innings and we are in Game 2 of the doubleheader with a tie game, bases loaded, no outs - she is ready.
"It is that confidence and inner strength that she exudes so as a coach you are more than willing to put her back out there to get us out of the jam. She makes you and everyone else around her a believer. And Coach Bell has done a tremendous job of developing (Dixon's) command. They work so well together on game day."
Dixon also is a different pitcher than the one who immediately followed in the ace footsteps of three-year Herd starter (2011-13) Andi Williamson.
"I throw harder now," Dixon said. "The weight room, for me has really improved. So, I've gotten so much stronger and that's helped. When I got here, it was really exciting to me if I hit 60 (mph). It was 57, 58, maybe even 59 on a good day. Now I'm at the point where even on a bad day, I'm throwing 62. About 64 is the regular now.
"Mentally, I'm different, too. Honestly, the mental part has a lot to do with my catcher. Taylor McCord has really, really helped me settle in, because I'll get flustered in the middle of a game and I'll start to have an attitude. And Taylor will come out and talk to me and calm me down and that's really the biggest thing.
"And when Shonda comes out, she goofs off. If I'm stressing out, she'll say something and put a smile on my face, that kind of thing. I don't stress too much anymore, but it was like that especially as a freshman and a little bit early last season. I'm more comfortable now because I understand my job and I understand what I have to do.
"Coach Bell has pushed me the most, the way that she has developed me. I was a decent pitcher when I got here but she has helped me so much, just working with me every day, giving me that extra push. I won't say what we're doing, but the way that she runs a workout, the way of doing thing has made a phenomenal difference in the pitcher I was and the one I am now.
"A lot of people I played travel ball and high school with Ã¢â'¬Â¦ I go home and I'll throw to them now and they'll say, 'I don't even recognize that it's you. What is this?'"
Dixon might have said that when she took a recruiting trip to Marshall from her home in Edmond, Okla.
"How did I get here?" Dixon repeated, smiling. "Honestly, my travel-ball coach (Donnie Hughes of the Oklahoma Exclusive) influenced me the most. He talked to Shonda, and at the time Coach (Amanda) Williams and Coach (Chelsey) Barclay were here as assistants. Donnie tells me, 'Look, Jordan go on this visit.
"He said, 'You're going to go, I want you to go.' And I cried. I said, 'I'm not going to West Virginia, you can't make me go; I'm not going.'
"Then he sat me down and we watched the ("We Are Marshall") movie and got me out here on an unofficial visit and my first time on campus, I committed that weekend. Honestly, it was Shonda. I really, really loved her program, her attitude and how much she cares about all of the players. That was a huge thing for me. I also thought the campus was beautiful, thought the dorms were awesome Ã¢â'¬Â¦ loved every aspect I saw, our field and the softball facilities here, just loved it."
Bell said Dixon's maturation has been significant in the right-hander's success.
"One of Jordan's biggest strengths, besides her strength, is her confidence and belief in herself," the Herd pitching coach said. "Pitching is such a mental game and in the span of seven innings you go through a roller coaster of emotions. Jordan never loses confidence in herself or in her pitching. Even on days when her best pitch isn't working, she has the confidence in her other pitches that she can still beat any team and gain 10 strikeouts along the way."
Like Bell, Stanton knows where to find Dixon.
If she isn't in the circle, she's in the bullpen.
"Dixon's one word that she has chosen to live out is' dependable' and she demonstrates that with consistency," Stanton said. "Besides her dependability, I love seeing the drive and focus she has to be great. It is that determination that separates her and allows her perform at a high level. She takes pride in her pitching and is a tough competitor.
"Her presence on the mound relaxes our defense because we can count on her to provide a strikeout and induce a pop-out every single inning. Jordan has fought for everything she has earned and all the credit she deserves is a result of her strength and her resolve."