Westfield State pitching: A family affair

 

For the past 44 years, Westfield State University has been a family affair for the Sullivans. 

Currently, senior Julia Sullivan is an all-New England player for the Owls softball team as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman, but it is a legacy at Westfield State that begins with her mother Kristine (Kelly) Sullivan '77 and father Robert Sullivan '81, and continued with her brother Mike '14, who pitched for the Owls baseball team.

Julia was named the athletic department's Peter Mazza Award winner this week, an ideal candidate as the recipient must excel in academics, athletics ability, sportsmanship, character, service, leadership, and personal development.

As a junior, Julia was named to the ECAC All-New England team as a utility player, (having been a standout at both first base and pitcher).  She was a first-team all-MASCAC selection as a junior, and was also selected as a second-team All-Conference pick as a freshman designated player.

For her career, she's played in more than 100 games for the Owls with a .361 batting average, 23 doubles, five triples and three home runs. She's scored 65 runs and driven in 59.

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As pitcher, she has started 45 games and amassed 23 wins while pitching more than 300 innings with an ERA of 2.90.  She nearly threw a perfect game last week.

"She's doing everything well," said Owls coach Colleen Bannister. "She has worked really hard, studies really hard.  She's in the nursing honor society, she's actively making her community a better place, and she has an ERA in the two's and is hitting .350.  That's a huge feat."

A nursing major from West Barnstable who attended Sandwich High School, Sullivan has maintained high GPA while playing softball, and working overnight shifts as part of the nursing practicum. She's active in the athletic department as part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and works as game day staff in the offseason.

 "In the spring, I think I actually do better academically because I have to focus more with splitting time between softball and Nursing," said Julia. "I was a little nervous about doing both, as some schools had told me that there was no way to balance Nursing and softball, but it has been more than enjoyable and I'd encourage others who are thinking about athletics and Nursing to look at Westfield State."

"I haven't had a problem with it" she said. "I think I manage my time well, and my coaches have been very accommodating with my schedule, and a Marsha Scanlon in the Nursing program has been great and always been accommodating with scheduling."

"My decision came down to Westfield and UConn," said Sullivan. "Ultimately, I wasn't going to have to pay $45,000 a year for school and I wouldn't have played softball.  So, no loans, softball, and the Nursing program gave me everything that I wanted to do here at Westfield.

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Mike Sullivan
 

"I didn't even tour Westfield, I had been here so much with my family during baseball games.  We'd come out twice a week when Mike played."

 
Mike pitched in 35 games for the Owls over four years, enjoying a strong sophomore season out of the bullpen with a 2.08 ERA in 17 innings, and posted a 3-0 record with one save as a starter as a senior while working to a 3.09 ERA.

"My experience was 100 percent positive," said Mike about his four years at Westfield State. "Almost all of my good friends still come from the teams that I played on at Westfield, and I have experiences and memories that will last forever.  I can't say enough good things about things about Westfield, as I think I am a better person and a better ball player because of going to Westfield State."

"I knew my dad played at Westfield, but it wasn't until high school and we started going to see the Owls play at Mass Maritime did I start to think about seeing myself play in that jersey," said Mike.

"I knew my parents went to Westfield, but I never visited campus until Mike started looking at schools," said Julia. "I think it was the only state school that we both looked at," said Julia. "And it had a big impact on me when Coach [Richard] Lenfest, the athletic director, called me from the bus when the team was in Florida when I was a senior and talked to me about coming to Westfield State to play softball."

"Dad used to tell us stories about him and his roommates in college, but until I came along when Mike went on his tour, I pictured it very differently," said Julia.

"We've been blessed for the past seven years to watch both of our children play college sports, and getting to watch it at our alma mater has made it even better," said Bob.

"It's been great, and really given us a chance to reconnect with the school," noted Kris, who added that she has been getting together with college friends twice a year for nearly the last 40 years.

"Seven years in a row we got to spend a lot of time together as a family on the spring Florida trips, and it's been great to get away and support the baseball and softball teams," said Mike. "Having family there to support us was huge, and that year that we overlapped in school when I was a senior and Julia was a freshman was awesome.   We'd be together on the bus to games, we'd cross paths in the Woodward Center going to practices, and it was great for my parents to be able to make one trip and see us both." 12728

Pitching might be in the family DNA. 

Bob Sullivan pitched for the strong Owls baseball teams of the late '70s.  He pitched to a 2.70 era with a 2-0 record as a senior in 1981.  He and Kris met as residence Hall advisors on campus. "Kris was my boss," he said.
 
"My dad pitched, my brother pitched, my dad encouraged me to pitch," said Julia. "I actually pitched in Little League baseball until I turned 13, which is when I started pitching in softball.  For a long time I wanted to be the first woman in the NFL and play football too, but my mom wasn't having any part of that."

 "We always played catch as a family in the yard," said Bob.  

"I have had a frustrating year pitching," said Julia.  "Sometimes it's nice to just play first, because it's less stress than pitching is. But I love pitching, I wouldn't change it."
Who is the best athlete in the family?

"Because Julia's humble, I think she'd say my dad was the best athlete," said Mike.

"I'm the best," said Julia with devilish grin. "I'm smarter than (Mike) too, but he won't admit that.  But softball is different than baseball too, because as a starter you just can't pitch as often.  I probably throw as many innings in a year as he did in his career just because the games are different.  But we have to keep Mike humble"

"But she's a hard-throwing lefty, and I was a soft-throwing right hander, so I'd never tell her this, but she's the better athlete" said Mike.  "Then again, my dad has run the Boston Marathon, so maybe he is."

Let's look to Dad to settle the argument. "That's easy," said Bob, with a diplomatic smile. "Julia's the best female athlete in the family, and Mike is the best male athlete."

"The Sullivans are one of the most supportive families I have ever seen," said Bannister.  "The whole family comes to Florida the week that we play down there, they come to every game all the way from Cape Cod, and they don't miss a pitch.  Mr. Sullivan coaches a summer team so that kids have a place to play, and during the season he communicates with all the other parents on the team who might not be able to be at a game.  They have definitely made our softball family tighter."

What's Julia's experience with softball at Westfield State been like? 12727


"It's been awesome," said Sullivan. 

"The opportunity I got due to fall ball - I immediately felt like I belonged here.  Molly Dunbar was a senior, and since her sister Emma is in my class, she immediately took us under her wing. I have learned a lot from softball, time management, team work, working well together with other people." "Julia has stepped up and been a leader for us," said Bannister.  "She makes things happen, she doesn't watch them happen.  Her competitive nature has helped us to build a culture of winning."

Sullivan and her teammates have their work cut out for them as they enter this week's Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament as the second seed.

"I'm O.K. with being the number two seed in the MASCAC tournament," said Sullivan.  'Maybe it's the best spot.  I know we have the capability to win the tournament if we play well and play together, we can do it, and I want it to be a big upset."

It might be an upset; but knowing the Sullivans, it wouldn't be a surprise.