Jessie Isham is Sprague's Not So Secret Weapon

 

Most people see Jessie Isham as one of the most feared hitters in the state.

Hitting a ridiculous .757 will do that.

But when those who know the game of softball see the Sprague High School senior play catcher, they know what kind of player they’re really watching.

There is no pitch too wild or speedy runner with intents on stealing second base who will intimidate Isham.

“Jessie has a go-go-Gadget arm,” Sprague coach Rocky Knuth said. “She can snag anything. There’s not much that gets by her, and that is so awesome to have.

“There’s times where our pitcher’s going to have some wild pitches, but we have a brick wall behind the plate, and good luck stealing on her because she has caught a lot of people. And I almost wish more people would steal so she could get some more opportunities to make some plays there, but people don’t test her very much anymore just because they know.”

Isham became a catcher almost by accident.

She was a pitcher at a young age when her team’s catcher broke her leg.

Her father, Russ, suggested she become a catcher so she tried it. And then took lessons on how to get better.

Between growing to 5-foot-10 and possessing a ridiculous athleticism, she has a range that most catchers dream about.

“She’s also real tall so she has quite a wingspan, and I always make jokes with her, I’m like, man, if I only had a couple more inches like you did … ” said Sprague assistant coach Lacey Holm, a former catcher at Portland State.

What helps out with her range is ridiculous flexibility.

Up until the fifth grade she could reverse her knees. It was only when a PE teacher told her it was bad for her that she stopped doing it.

“I’ve gotten to the point where I can be my own chiropractor,” said Isham, a first-team 6A all-state player as a junior. “I can crack my neck both directions, which is so much fun to do in class, freak people out.”

The people outside of her classes pay attention to her hitting.

Besides hitting a staggering.757 as a junior, she had an .823 on-base percentage and a 1.590 slugging percentage. She had 38 RBIs, scored 21 runs, stole 12 bases and a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

“My family, they always make fun of me now,” she said. “They’re like, oh, you have to hit above what you hit last year. I’m like, okay, that’s really hard. I did really good last year, and I don’t want to disappoint them by not achieving that, but that’s difficult.”

As last season wore on, teams recognized how dangerous of a hitter Isham had become.

They worked up a strategy for her: Walk her.

A lot.

In a game against West Salem last season, she was intentionally walked all four times.

“Even, for instance, last year, every team wanted to start walking (Isham) towards the end of the year, and what does she do?” said teammate Alex Ledgerwood.

“She decided to work on her outside pitch more because she knew that was something that they were going to go after and so she goes way up to the line and said, ‘If you’re going to walk me then I’m just going to put the bat on the ball on the outside pitch,’ and she did it.”

There is a way to keep the bat in Isham’s hands: She’s now the lead-off hitter.

“It’s not like she’s one of those kids that is just a good hitter,” Knuth said. “She’s a great baserunner, too. And so if you want to put her on, go for it.”

There’s a reason this girl got this good at the game.

A fun activity for Isham growing up was coming to Sprague’s softball field with her father and former Western Oregon baseball player, Russ, and make up softball-related games like who could throw the ball over a tree.

“She continues to work at it,” said teammate Katelyn Macaitis-Smith. “She knows that she’s good, but she doesn’t get that in her head.”

The Minnesota coaching staff recruited her to play outfield, but when she informed them of how she plays catcher in high school they told her they may put her behind the plate some, too.

Holm says Isham’s ability to control the game and the respect she gets from her teammates on the field would translate well to the college game.

Isham just wants to play more softball, though.

“To be on a team in college, that’s fricking awesome,” said Isham, who says she will major in education or physical therapy. “I’m so excited no matter where I play.”

 

Original Article by Bill Poehler, Statesman Journal (4-7-15)

Signatures

  • Created By Carter McQuigg -- 5/24/2017

Salem-Keizer Public Schools promotes equal opportunity for all individuals without regard to age, color, disability, marital status, national origin, race, religion or creed, sex or gender, sexual orientation, or veteran status. Learn More