The Daily Gamecock

Softball pitcher makes mark in 1st collegiate season

<p>FILE — Freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko throws a pitch in South Carolina's Carolina Classic tournament game against Jacksonville State on Feb. 9, 2024, at Beckham Field. Mardjetko struck out four batters in the Gamecocks' 4-3 victory over the Gamecocks.</p>
FILE — Freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko throws a pitch in South Carolina's Carolina Classic tournament game against Jacksonville State on Feb. 9, 2024, at Beckham Field. Mardjetko struck out four batters in the Gamecocks' 4-3 victory over the Gamecocks.

Pitching has been a strong suit for the South Carolina softball team throughout the 2024 season, as its pitching staff has accumulated a 1.84 earned run average through 44 contests.

Fifth-year pitcher Alana Vawter leads the pitching staff in wins with 12 and innings pitched with 130 pitches. But newcomer freshman pitcher Sage Mardjetko has also stepped up in her own way with 91 innings and 7 games of her own won.

Mardjetko has played a vital role in closing games — which has played a part in the Gamecocks' pitching success — and has showed significant growth as the season has progressed.

Mardjetko began playing softball at 5 years old when her older sisters introduced her to the sport. Competitiveness has been her primary drive for playing softball at a high level, she said. 

"I have three older sisters that played, so once they started playing, I followed in their footsteps, and I've loved it ever since," Mardjetko said. "I just love the competitive nature of it and just being able to go out there and play and compete.   

Mardjetko played at Lemont High School in Illinois where she earned numerous awards, such as the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards National Softball Player of the Year in her junior season and the Illinois Softball Gatorade Player of the Year in her junior and senior seasons.

She threw 32 no-hitters and five perfect games throughout her high school career, leading Lemont to back-to-back Illinois High School Association Class 3A state championships.  

Mardjetko committed to South Carolina as the No. 10 prospect from the class of 2023

Head coach Beverly Smith said Mardjetko is a coachable player who doesn't fit a specific stereotype that many softball pitchers share.  

"Sometimes pitchers have a reputation of being prima donnas and princesses, and so when you go in the weight room and see pitchers putting weight on the bar and getting after it, that was exciting for me,"  Smith said. "Sage is somebody who wants to get stronger. She wants to be great, and she's someone who works at her craft."  

Mardjetko made her collegiate debut in early February against UNC Greensboro but was inconsistent over her three innings of work. She allowed three runs and two hits and struck out six batters in what would eventually be an 8-4 win for the Gamecocks.  

But Mardjetko has since impressed, amassing a 7-6 record and 2.31 ERA over 91 innings pitched while striking out 92 batters. She has gotten the opportunity to pitch as both a starter and reliever throughout the season, as she has appeared in 25 games and started in 12 of them. 

Mardjetko was used as a closer during the early parts of the campaign, registering three saves in her first 10 collegiate appearances.

Maintaining aggressiveness is what has helped her perform well in late-game situations, she said. 

"(My mindset is) definitely just attacking and letting my defense work," Mardjetko said. "Just throwing quality pitches and being able to keep my team in games."  

Smith said it's not just the quality of Mardjetko's pitches that poses trouble for opposing batters — it's also the variety of ones she throws.  

"She's got the ability to go up in the strike zone, she has the ability to go down and change speeds," Smith said.  "The fact that she's got command over so many pitches is actually really what makes her tough, I think — and by tough, I would say hard to hit." 

While Mardjetko's arsenal of different pitches has led to some success this season, she's been inconsistent, as she has mustered a 2-3 record against SEC teams this season.  

Vawter said she has seen Mardjetko develop into a leader on the team, despite her sub-.500 record in SEC play. 

"I think that she's taken on a tremendous leadership role, just as a freshman, which has been really cool to see,"  Vawter said. "She has been able to come in here and treat the team like it's her own as a freshman ... obviously, college softball is a lot different, but I think she's been able to take the bull by the horns and attack.


South Carolina as a whole has struggled against conference opposition.

The team has a 5-10 record against SEC opponents after losing to Arkansas during its most recent home stand. Mardjetko performed well against the Razorbacks, however, winning Saturday's contest and allowing just three runs across 5.1 innings pitched over the weekend. 

"In high school and travel ball, people didn't know who you were until they were playing you, and now everyone knows what you're going to do before they even face you." Mardjetko said. "So it's definitely one of the biggest differences and challenges — is just learning how to beat hitters who know you and your pitches." 

But Mardjetko has enjoyed her time on the team so far as a freshman, she said.

"It's definitely been a learning curve but it's been super fun learning the game at a different level and growing a better understanding on and off of the field and how to beat times multiple times in a weekend at times," Mardjetko said. 

Smith said she wants Mardjetko to continue her positive trajectory as the team experiences the ups and downs of a long season.  

"I want her to continue on the path. You can't explain what it's like to go through an SEC season and to be seasoned by the hitters in the SEC — I mean, it's very humbling at times," Smith said. "There's just no room for a weekend off or taking a breath."

Smith said she hopes to continue seeing Mardjetko impress in the circle over the final three weeks of the regular season.  

"She's had great outings, and I think we'll continue to grow as we get through this second half of the SEC season,"  Smith said. 

South Carolina will face Florida in its next SEC series in Gainesville, Florida. First pitch will is set for 6 p.m. on Friday, and the game will be broadcast on SEC Network. 


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