ACC Softball: Former West star Williams winds down career at Maryland
By Mike London
Maryland senior Devon Williams doesn’t hit many triples so she was fired up after a backdoor slide took her safely into third base in a game April 18 against Boston College.
Ecstasy turned into agony for the former West Rowan standout a few seconds later.
“My arm kinda got trapped up on the slide,” Williams said. “When I went back out to third base to play defense, I threw the ball to first and it felt like my elbow was flying off. My teammates said there was a look of shock all over my face. I’m thinking that I’ve been fortunate all these years with nothing bad happening to me, and now I’ve got 2 1/2 weeks left and I’ve decided to hurt myself. I didn’t want to tell the trainer.”
She didn’t have to. Trainers are smart. Besides, this trainer heard a ligament in Williams’ elbow make an ugly popping sound.
” I’ve got a lovely brace on my right elbow now,” Williams said. “But I’ve kept playing. If I have to run the ball over to first base, I’m going to stay in there.”
Williams, brace and all, will play in the ACC tournament tonight against Virginia Tech in Raleigh. She’s the only senior who’s been in the program four years, and she takes her leadership role seriously. The ACC tournament is single elimination, Maryland (29-25) is on the bubble for an NCAA bid, and if the Terps lose to the fifth-seeded Hokies, it likely will be her last softball game.
“It’s an overwhelming thought that Friday could be my last one,” Williams said. “People back home have always known me as Devon ó that girl that plays softball ó and softball has been a wonderful part of who I am since I was 5. It’s sad that it could end Friday, but the only thing I can do is play with every ounce of energy and heart I’ve got.”
Playing for three head coaches ó Vanessa Noe, Ray Graham and Elizabeth Clarke ó Williams helped West Rowan reach the pinnacle in 3A. The Falcons were 101-15 in her four years. She was part of more wins than any girl in county softball history.
She was a summer travel-ball infielder, but as a freshman and sophomore, she pitched for great teams that won back-to-back 3A state championships. She tossed well-located strikes, and her teammates played airtight defense. She was MVP of the state tournament at Raleigh’s Walnut Creek complex both seasons.
She split time between pitcher and shortstop as a junior. That was 2004, the year everyone assumed West would win its third in a row, but the season ended abruptly with a first-round playoff loss.
“That was the last game for Blair (Harkey), for Hillary (Hampton), for Cara (Graham), for everyone,” Williams said. “It was devastating. I spent that summer worrying whether softball would ever be like it had been. But then we got a new group, and my senior year we made it to the championship game. We exceeded expectations at a wonderful level.”
Williams was 2005 Rowan County Player of the Year as a third baseman after leading the Falcons to that 3A runner-up finish.
Her final season at Maryland has mirrored her path at West. Maryland won 36 games her junior year, third-best record in school history, but graduation losses were heavy.
“So many of my best friends graduated, girls I’ve lived with, and I didn’t know how things would go my last year,” Williams said. “We started 0-5, but we’ve surpassed expectations. These girls are young, but they want to win.”
Williams’ college career started slowly, then picked up steam. Coach Gina LaMandre was head coach at Maryland when Williams was recruited, but she resigned in July shortly before Williams’ freshman year began. Laura Watten was hired to replace her, and Williams steadily earned the trust of a new coach.
She was a utility player at first and spent time in the outfield. Eventually she became the third baseman.
“Third base is where I found a home, and I’ve been able to anchor that spot for the team,” Williams said. “I love playing third, catching those hard shots, fielding the bunts. Plus, you get to talk a lot in the infield, and I like to talk and keep everyone up.”
Her junior season provided her best offensive numbers. She batted .260, took 18 walks and had a .372 on-base percentage, solid numbers at the ACC level.
This season, it’s been an ongoing battle with the .200 mark, but she’s been the vocal leader, she’s fielded well and she laid down 11 sacrifice bunts, which ties her for the ACC lead. She’s among the team leaders with 15 RBIs and 21 runs scored.
She’s had amazing experiences at Maryland. Last March, the Terps took on Team USA, and Williams can always tell people she struck out against Cat Osterman.
Her sophomore year, just days after the shootings at Virginia Tech, Maryland’s softball team played in Blacksburg, the first sporting event on campus after the tragedy. That will always stick with her.
“We all thought the games would be canceled, but then we’re playing,” said Williams, who had a triple in a 5-4 Maryland victory. “The stadium was absolutely packed, and I remember my parents standing in the outfield to watch. So much pride and so much sadness. It was very humbling.”
Academically, Williams has done well, although she traded her dream of aerospace engineering for business school.
“Engineering was tough with the time demands of softball, and I didn’t really enjoy the classes,” Williams said. “I switched to the business school and fell in love with it. I’ve been making the Dean’s List.”
Law school is next, probably at UNC, Wake Forest or Campbell.
Williams made the ACC All-Academic team as a junior. She’s done her part in the community working with projects such as Special Olympics, and she’s become a favorite at Maryland’s Robert E. Taylor Stadium.
“I’ve been around a while, and the kids know me,” she said. “It’s fun hearing them yell my name and asking for autographs ó win or lose.”
Williams’ parents, Fred and Mary Lou, have made it to all the weekend games this season, including a jaunt to Palm Springs, Calif.
“My mom really hates to fly so that’s a lot of support,” Williams said.
The Williams family could make its last softball road trip this Mother’s Day weekend, while Devon could play her last game in Raleigh, the town where she was twice the 3A MVP.
“My teammates have been getting on me, telling me I’m gonna cry like crazy after my last game,” Williams said. “They’re right. I’ll bawl like a baby, but I won’t be ashamed.”