Michelle Duncan overshadowed in era of exceptional pitchers

March 7, 2011 by Les Willsey, AZPreps365

It  has not been hard to get lost in the shuffle as a prep softball pitcher in the Valley the last few years. Gilbert hurler MIchelle Duncan can relate.

The Tiger senior entered her fourth varsity season two weeks ago not unknown, but not as recognizable as a Dallas Escobedo (St. Mary's), Sam Parlich (Basha) or Mel Willadsen (Red Mountain). What she has meant to her team the last three-plus seasons is on par with that threesome. With Parlich graduated in 2009 and Escobedo and Willadsen diplomaed last spring, Duncan is now grabbing some limelight. At least should be. She hasn't disappointed. What she and Gilbert haven't done that Parlich, Escobedo and Willadsen have, is win a state title.

"There has been a lot of talent (pitching) the last  four years," Gilbert coach Shaundra Gutierrez said. "I'd have to say Michelle has been overshadowed. She has done an amazing job pitching for us. Every year she gets better. In all areas."

Gilbert has been the dominant team in its region the last three years, winning Fiesta Region titles twice and the Central Region crown last year. Beginning with her freshman year in 2008, Duncan has posted records of 13-5, 10-7 and 16-6. The corresponing earned run averages were 2.84, 1.70 and 1.26.  Not bad for the slender, wirey-strong right-hander.

"I've tried to take each year and build on it," Duncan said. "I have felt overshadowed, but then they have pitched on teams that won state. When you'd say their names people knew immediately who they were. With me, it might be, "Oh, yeah. I've heard of her. She's pretty good."

"I have a chance now to make a name for myself. We've been close the last couple years. Our team has a chance of  going further."

Like many players, Duncan's journey in softball began with wanting to be an all-purpose player. That changed a few years ago when pitching became her passion.

"When you're younger you want to do everything," Duncan said. "I decided I wanted to concentrate on pitching. I started out trying different coaches. Trying to pick up different things from each one that worked. I think that has helped  more than hurt me."

In two of Duncan's first three seasons, she has shared pitching duties evenly. Last year she received more of the lion's share of work.

"In high school you don't play as many games so I think I could pitch every game," Duncan said. "I'm used to pitching a couple games a day in club. I'd pitch every game if I could."

Duncan and her Gilbert  teammates opened the season winning all seven games of the Lion Country Classic and the championship. Duncan pitched 36 innings in the tourney, was the winning pitcher in five games, threw four shutouts and allowed one earned run (0.19 ERA). She was the winning pitcher vs. Deer Valley and its standout Lauren Haeger, a multisport athlete headed to Florida next fall.

"Facing Lauren who is of the top pitchers around was a game I looked forward to," Duncan said, a game Gilbert won, 4-3, to reach the title game. Those are matchups you want to be a part of."

Mesquite coach Jeff Shufelt and his Wildcats have resided in the same region with Gilbert every year Duncan has played. That will be true this season as well. Shufelt has seen Duncan pitch plenty over that span. Last year she beat Mesquite twice, 10-0 and 3-2. She did not give up an earned run in either game.

"She's a competitor," Shufelt said. "She battles. She keeps you off balance and has good command. She doesn't give in. You have to get to her early if you're going to get her. She keeps Gilbert in every game she pitches."