Officially, it was a changeup. That’s the pitch that struck out catcher Mary Tiegs.
“I had already hit a homer,” Tiegs said. “It was my senior year against Carmel.”
So what is the big deal about this strikeout? It was the only time in her high school career that she fanned.
Tiegs, Libertyville’s softball coach for the past seven seasons, has resigned her post. Maybe she told some of her Wildcats players about her days on the diamond, but maybe not.
By all accounts, she was one gifted athlete. After Libertyville, she earned a full ride softball scholarship to Eastern Illinois University. In 2002, she was elected to the Eastern Illinois University sports Hall of Fame.
Mary Boyes Kovatch was the shortstop on the Libertyville squads of the late 1970s.
“As a catcher, she was ridiculously focused,” Boyes Kovatch said. “She was spot-on with her throws. She was by far, the best player on our team.”
Career Started in Backyard
Tiegs’ sports career began in her backyard. Her father installed a fence and the games were on.
“We had a big backyard,” Tiegs said. “We played hard ball. It was the late ’60s and early ’70s. I did everything until high school.”
Title IX did not pass until 1972, so despite her talents, Tiegs didn’t really think about a career in sports. She played three years of basketball and two varsity seasons of volleyball. But her true love was softball.
“I was really a third baseman,” she said. “But I became catcher the last three years. I liked the idea of being part of the game constantly. That was instead of waiting for the ball to come to me. I think it actually helped my hitting as I got to see the ball cross the plate.”
Helped along by this versatile athlete, the volleyball team reached a supersectional. As a junior, she played on coach Tom Murphy’s first basketball team that won 24 games. It was the 1979-80 season.
“I was on his first team,” Tiegs said.
There was some success in softball as well.
“We reached the supersectional game and lost to New Trier,” she said. “And then they started bunting on us. I think the headline said, ‘Bunt Barrage.’ ”
In those days, Tiegs would stay in softball shape by playing slow-pitch in the summer. It sounds odd these days, but Tiegs felt it might have even helped her game.
“We did have to make adjustments,” she said. “But in slow pitch, you have to keep your weight back and hit to the opposite field.”
Despite her prowess in softball, college recruiters were not knocking on her door.
“You had to drive to the school and try out,” she said. “I think 100 kids tried out at Eastern and they picked seven of us. That first year, I got a partial scholarship. After that, it was a full ride.”
With an All-American catcher on the team, Tiegs headed for the outfield. The 1982 Panthers won 45 games and finished third in the nation. That 45 wins is still a school team record. Her career average in college was a sporty .327.
Her career marks rank in the top five in runs scored, home runs, RBIs and stolen bases.
Tiegs has been a teacher at Northwood Junior High in Highland Park for 25 years. When veteran softball coach Bob Fox stepped down at Libertyville in 2004, Tiegs applied for the job.
“I took the position that I wanted to give back,” she said. “I had the passion to play and I owed it to the school.”
The Libertyville squads did reach regional title game in three of the six seasons.
“My position at my school changed,” she said. “I couldn’t give 100 percent of my time for softball, so I had to resign.”