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Nevins’ journey to the Hall of Fame

Sara Nevins still plays softball, even after her career with USF and Team USA. ORACLE PHOTO/BRIAN HATTAB

When one considers a player like Sara Nevins, who topped the USF softball all-time strikeouts chart in 2014, one would expect her to continue to be slinging 75 mph pitches at unsuspecting batters in National Pro Fastpitch (NPF).

But these days, you’re more likely to find her at Hyde Park softball field on a Tuesday night with her coed slow-pitch softball team.

“I went from pitching, and now I play first, outfield and catcher so I can at least still throw some people out,” she said.

Nevins was recently selected to be inducted into the USF Athletics Hall of Fame later this year, five years after a remarkable career with the Bulls, which included leading USF to its first and only Women’s College World Series appearance in 2012, toppling the career strikeouts record with 1,103, and becoming the first ever USF player to become a three-time All-American.

“I was honestly shocked about the Hall of Fame,” Nevins said. “I knew my stats were good but I didn’t care about that. I just pitched and had fun and it just happened. I could’ve done better for all we know.”

Like most sporty kids, Nevins began playing T-ball at age 4. She tried all sports but fell in love with softball.

“I threw hard from [age] 9. I was just wild,” she joked. “I started throwing strikes and they were shocked and the umpires were like, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re actually good,’ so I stuck with it.”

She then went on to become the softball MVP all four years at Pinellas Park High School and was the all-state pitcher of the year in 2008 and 2010.

Nevins’ high school and travel ball pitching stats caught the eye of USF coach Ken Eriksen. She was contacted by the team, toured the school and officially joined the Bulls in 2011. She was mostly happy with how close USF was in proximity to her family.

A trip to Oklahoma City has yet to come for the Bulls since 2012, but Nevins recalled their first game of the series against Oklahoma.

“It didn’t feel real until after the fact, looking back at it,” she said. “It’s like, ‘Oh crap, we’re really going to the World Series.’ It's like we worked really hard, we deserve it but all throughout it, it just felt like we were playing a game. The crowd was much much larger so it was shocking, but it was still your average game, just on a larger level.”

In 2013, her junior season, she impressed Team USA and earned her spot on the team. She went on to play with Team USA for five years, playing in multiple World Cups, ISF World Championships and Pan American Games.

“Pan American was my all-time favorite tournament. It was in Toronto in 2014,” she said. “It’s like a mini-Olympics, you’re staying in little villages with different countries … we all eat in a big cafeteria. They tear everything down and make it one big mini-Olympic village.”

Her time with Team USA was the first time she had been out of the country. The team traveled to the likes of Chinese Taipei, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan. 

To say it was a culture shock for Nevins is an understatement. As a kid from Pinellas Park, to see the world through softball was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

“In Japan, they have tens of thousands of people watching,” she said. “Like, they’re all in their little work outfits and they go right there.”

Japan was almost Nevins’ home after a professional team offered her a contract.

“I had the opportunity to go over there and play after college in 2014, however again, I’m very much a family person,” she said. “My parents were kind of ill so I wanted to stay close to them and also I’m pretty reserved and quiet so I didn’t want to leave my family.”

Nevins signed with the Scrapyard Dawgs in its 2016 inaugural season of NPF, considerably closer to home, with the team based out of Conroe, Texas.

With the Scrapyard Dawgs, Nevins rubbed shoulders with a handful of softball greats, including pitcher Monica Abbott, who signed the first million-dollar softball contract in 2016.

“We talked a little bit but I’m still pretty shy and reserved,” she said. “She would help with certain pitches if we were in the bullpen.”

But her time in NPF was cut short by an unexpected condition.

Nevins developed thoracic outlet syndrome, which is a compression of the blood vessels or nerves around the collar bone, which can lead to shoulder pain and numbness.

“I didn’t know what that meant but basically, my nerves and everything would go in and out and I would lose feeling in my arm,” she said.

She went for surgery on her right shoulder in 2016, and her professional fast-pitch career came to a screeching halt.

“Fortunately, I can at least still throw a ball,” she said.

Her love for softball, however, didn’t stop there.

“I could no longer play with [Team] USA. I did pro for a year in Houston, but after surgery, I’m like, ‘OK, I still want to get involved.’”

That’s when she found Tampa Club Sports, a local tournament circuit that plays in the South Tampa and the New Tampa areas.

When she’s not working at her day job as a financial recruiter with Kforce Inc. and pursuing her dream job of being a nurse, Nevins takes the time to play the sport she’s loved since she was young.

“It’s just a way to stay involved in the game and stay active,” Nevins said. “I wish I can still be playing fast-pitch but I can still have fun and not be without softball.”

Nevins also takes the time to pass her softball skills on to the younger generation. She works camps with former softball greats, like fellow former Team USA pitcher Jennie Finch.

“It’s still within USA softball but it’s good to help kids,” she said. “Basically, they grow up where they really can’t afford it, so it’s free for them and we just put on like a whole weeklong camp, teach them the drills and basically what it’s like to be in the college level.”

Despite being away from USF for the past five years, Nevins still keeps the Team USA connection with Eriksen. In fact, the relationship goes much deeper than just athlete-to-coach.

“He’s like a second father to me, honestly,” she said. “There was a time in 2013 before Big East conference, my dad actually had a heart attack … [Eriksen] talked to my dad and he was like, ‘If anything ever happens … I will take care of her.’”

Her mother, Wanda, passed away in 2017 and Eriksen has remained close and shares a friendship with her father, Joseph.

As for her father, he’s her biggest fan, and he can’t contain his excitement over her Hall of Fame induction.

“He was telling all of his friends,” she said.

“He’s so excited.”