Aussie legends join International Hall of Fame

Natalie Ward and Melanie Roche with their International Hall of Fame plaques.

Aussie legends join International Hall of Fame

Two of the greatest players in Australian softball history, Melanie Roche and Natalie Ward, have been inducted into the International Softball Hall of Fame.

Roche and Ward were awarded international softball’s highest honour at a ceremony before the Aussie Spirit-Japan game at the Asia Pacific Cup at Sydney’s Blacktown International Sportspark.

They were presented with their Hall of Fame plaques by 2013 inductee Bob Crudgington, who coached both players for many years when he was Head Coach of the Australian Open Women’s team.

There are now 211 members in the International Softball Hall of Fame, representing 34 countries.

melanie roche

Melanie Roche had an unrivalled passion for the game.

Melanie Roche

Roche, one of only four Australian sports people in history to win a medal at four consecutive Olympic Games, earned 229 caps with the Australian women’s national team over her 20-year international career.

She played in four World Championships, winning two bronze (1994 and 2006) and one silver medal (1998).

A feared pitcher, whose career highlights included a 0.00 ERA at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, Roche was named best pitcher at 12 national championships. She was inducted into the Softball Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.

Former teammate and 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Brooke Wilkins says Roche was an ultra-competitive player who had a real passion for the game.

“Melanie is the most passionate softball player I know,” Wilkins says. “Her competitive nature and drive to be the best is like nothing I have seen before on the softball field.

“Off the field, Mel loves to have fun and many of us who have played with her have fond memories of the fun times on tour with Super Mel, draped in an Aussie flag.

“With a unique laugh that you can hear a mile away, Mel Roche is an inspiration to younger players and I am so privileged to have spent so many years playing alongside and against her.”

Player number 148 for the Aussie Spirit, Roche has received numerous awards, including:

1986 – 2011 member of the NSW Open Women’s Team, winning 12 National Championships.
1986 – Best Pitcher Under 16 Girl’s National Championship.
1987 – Best Pitcher Under 19 Women’s National Championship.
1988 – Best Pitcher Under 19 Women’s National Championship.
1988 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1989 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1990 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1990 – 1993 Two-time First Team All-America Oklahoma State University.
1993 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1997 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1998 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
1999 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
2000 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
2001 – Best Pitcher Open Women’s National Championship.
2005 – Best Pitcher Canada Cup.
2011 – Oklahoma State University Hall of Fame.
2012 – Inducted in to the Softball Australia Hall of Fame.

Melanie Roche

Melanie Roche pitching for Australia.

CITATION

By Bob Crudgington, Head Coach of the Aussie Spirit from 1995 until 2000 and ISF Hall of Fame member.

The 1980s saw a golden period commence for pitchers in the Australian Women’s team. Undoubtedly one of Australia’s greatest exponents of the game arrived in 1988 at the Gilley’s Shield after dominating at the junior level.

Blessed with a wicked rise ball and curve and happy to rip the drop as well, Mel went on to shake the game up at senior level, winning three Lorraine Wooley Medals and taking New South Wales and her teammates to the pinnacle of the National Championships.

It wasn’t just the pitched ball that caused issues for opposition batters. It was the whole performance; the routines, the body language the aggressive pump and the yell. She was such an intimidating player.

The challenge for teams facing Rochey meant coaches and players had to develop their skills to counteract her. Getting up the front of the box, staying off the rise ball, shortening the swing and making sure you got some kind of contact had some impact, but still she dominated. As in many sporting endeavours at the highest level, it was a battle of wills and belief, and Rochey never backed off!

She represented Australia for over two decades, never giving anything but her best performances. In the centre she lifted the confidence of many Australian players. And so many strikeouts. Even if you did get the ball into the field of play, she was also an excellent fielder. This was an understated part of her game.

When she wasn’t pitching she also played a very solid role at second base for the Australian team. Years of specialist trainings as a pitcher robbed her of experience as a hitter, but she was still a fighter with a bat in her hand. I have little doubt if she wasn’t a pitcher she would have found the way to succeed as an international hitter.

Off the field she was feisty and almost rebellious in her younger years but she matured into a professional player of the highest standing. Can I say she had an outrageous and unique laugh!

As a coach I found her to be an excellent person, prepared to listen and prepared to put forward her own thoughts and ideas. She brought passion to the fore and later in life this was exhibited through other avenues including her music.

Long retired, I had the pleasure of working with Mel with some of her amazing music and I really got to appreciate her outlook on life and love of the game even more.

Mel was a ferocious competitor, her own greatest critic and in the end a deep and passionate thinker, not just about the game but life in general.

The ISF Hall of Fame just got a little more interesting with the induction of Melanie Roche.

 

Natalie Ward

Natalie Ward

Natalie Ward played in 429 games for Australia.

One of only four Australian Sports people in history to win a medal at four consecutive Olympic Games, Ward became the most capped player for the Australian Open Women’s Team in 2006 with 429 appearances.

She played in four world championships, winning two bronze (1994 and 2006) and one silver medal (1998), and was national champion 12 times.

Ward was inducted into the Softball Australia Hall of Fame in 2012.

Former teammate and 2013 Hall of Fame inductee Brooke Wilkins says Ward had no peer as a middle infielder.

“In her days on the international stage Nat was the best shortstop/second base in the game.

“As a pitcher you knew if a player was to steal she would put her body on the line, block the base for the out. Very rarely did someone get by.

“When I first played the game of softball with Nat as 14-year-old she was the gun pitcher in our team. A natural to the game, she could play anywhere and be awesome. I enjoyed the many years playing alongside socks-down Nat and the fun we have along the way.”

Player number 175 for the Aussie Spirit, Ward had an outstanding career, with highlights including:

1986 – 2001 member of the NSW Open Women’s Team, winning 12 National Championships.
1991- Most Valuable Player Under-16 National Championship.
1994 – Best Batter Open Women’s National Championship.
2012 – Inducted into the Softball Australia Hall of Fame.

CITATION

By Bob Crudgington, Head Coach of the Aussie Spirit from 1995 until 2000 and ISF Hall of Fame member.

Natalie Ward first came to my attention when I was the Under-19 National Coach and realised she wasn’t eligible for the Australian team by a matter of days.

Never mind, she was so talented she was selected within the senior squad and represented Australia at the 2004 World Championships and the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996 at the age of 19!

Natalie Ward

Natalie Ward at the 2000 International Challenge in Brisbane.

Natalie was a dynamic fielder with an uncanny ability to anticipate and read the game, as well as an aggressive batter.

Off the field, Natalie was a quiet achiever, preferring to let her skills on the field do most of her talking. In those early years it was obvious to me of the contribution from Natalie’s family. Her sister, Linda also represented Australia for many years, and her parents Graeme and Helen were always there to support her and the Australian team.

Some pieces of play stand out for me (among so many). The first was at the National Championships in 1996 when Natalie was playing shortstop for New South Wales against Queensland.  In a very tight game and with a runner on first we decided to slap the ball rather than the traditional bunt and the ball was driven straight past the pitcher. Incredibly Wardy had read the play and was literally waiting for the ball, so she picked up the line drive and completed the double play. Covering the steal, cheating or just intuitive – only Wardy knows!

At the “Superball Tournament in 1997” in Columbus, Georgia, Australia was playing the Japanese national team and in the first inning we had loaded the bases with two down. The first two pitches were hit hard by Wardy but both went foul. Over the next 10 pitches Wardy continued to foul off the strikes but let the balls go until the count was full. The pitcher chose to take Wardy on and the result was a grand slam!

In the same tournament, in the gold medal game against USA’s Lisa Fernandez, Wardy got on base with Kerry Dienelt in the batter’s box.  With one down and the score locked at 0-0, a run and hit was called for. Dienelt hit a solid grounder between centre field and right field, who picked up the ball and threw to third base. At this stage though, Wardy was on her way home to score the only run of the game.

Finally, a tour of Japan comes to mind. Just before the Olympic Games in 1996 we toured Japan and we couldn’t believe we had a rock star in our team. After each game Wardy was mobbed by spectators with hundreds of people jostling and demanding autographs from her while the rest of us waited quietly in the background before we could eventually head back to the hotel! We were willing to help, but the fans only wanted one person!

In conclusion, Wardy was an outstanding, highly skilful and mentally tough player who endured and played international softball for two decades. As was her nature, when all was said and done she returned quietly to her family and now has one of her own.

In the time of softball’s rise to Olympic status and beyond, Wardy was an integral character of the Aussie Spirit and it is fitting that she has been recognised and inducted into the International Softball Federation’s Hall of Fame.