The statistics said Mountain View High School graduate Jessica Sipe should not have been there. She had a better chance of being pregnant than playing in a national championship game. She had a better chance of being in jail than being the potential go-ahead run. The statistics said she was far more likely to be in rehab than crossing home plate. However, Sipe decided at a young age that she was going to defy the odds.
“My whole life the odds have always been against me,” Sipe said. “Despite the mishaps and roads that I’ve gone down it’s a fact that I won’t be another statistic.”
Sipe defied the odds and was playing for West Texas A&M in the Division II national title game. She came up to bat in the top of the seventh in a scoreless game and promptly smacked a double. A few batters later her teammate Brittany Gehle belted a home run and Sipe was the first of three Buffalo players to cross home plate.
Half an inning later, the team was celebrating their 3-2 win over Valdosta. The little girl who refused to go down the same path as her family was now a champion. The little girl who was picked last was winning it all. The little girl who grew up around addiction and abuse overcame the odds and hoisted the national championship trophy.
“At WT (West Texas A&M) we don’t give up,” explained Sipe. “So us scoring and winning in the seventh inning just capitalizes the fact that we are in it until the very end.”
Sipe never gave up either. The deck was stacked against her, but her determination got her to where she is, one semester from a college degree. Softball got her to college. Softball got her a chance.
“Softball saved my life,” Sipe proclaims.
Being a national champ and getting a softball scholarship seemed like the least likely thing on the horizon when 9-year-old Jessica signed up for softball. Her friends were playing, so she wanted to play. She showed up to the first day of practice at Thornydale Little League wearing blue jeans, soccer cleats and her hair in her eyes because she didn’t know to bring a hair tie. She was picked last that day, but coach Craig Stevens took her and wanted to see what he could get out of her.
Sipe says she was the worst player on the field that day, but Stevens disagreed.
“You could see she had something to work with that first day,” Stevens said. “If she wanted to work.”
She did. Little did they know on that day at the park, Sipe was finding a lifelong coach. Little did they know that day, Stevens was finding a daughter.
“She is like a daughter to me,” Stevens said. “When I introduce people to her I say she is my daughter.”
That day Stevens discovered a project. That day Sipe discovered a home.
Sipe’s family life was never easy. Her mother went to jail when Jessica was 5. There was drug use in the home. Her father and stepmother would come to games intoxicated. They showed up late, if they got there at all.
One night, Stevens got word that Sipe was at the park with some family members who were trying to introduce her to drugs. Stevens came and got her, went to her house and cleaned out her room and took her home with him. Jessica and his daughter Brianne were already best friends, now they would be living together like sisters.
“Her father had his problems, but I give him a lot of credit for letting her stay with us,” said Stevens. “He knew she was better off living with us.”
There was an adjustment period. Sipe was not used to rules and structure. It wasn’t that she was bad, she just didn’t know better.
“She didn’t understand why she and my daughters could not just go play in the park at 11 p.m. at night,” Stevens said.
The little project that Stevens wanted to make better at softball was now a bigger project. Once Sipe learned that she could earn a college scholarship to play softball that became her focus. Softball became a way to get a college degree and become a firefighter like her grandfather.
“As soon as I understood the concept of scholarships and college I promised myself that I would get there, no matter what it took,” said Sipe. “Softball definitely saved my life and gave me determination to better myself.”
Stevens was more than happy to help. They worked hard on the diamond and he kept her focused on school. Education became a priority along with the sport she had fallen in love with.
Things were better but they were not always great. There was still pressure from her family. Eventually her mother got out of jail and that began a rocky relationship. Her mother would demand to see her, but the visits did not go well. Visits or aborted visits often led Sipe to tears.
Softball was the constant. Softball was safe and Sipe was getting pretty good at it. Stevens coached an ASA travel team that travelled all over the country.
“We played from Florida to Washington and everywhere in between,” Stevens said. “It was softball four to five days a week.”
Sipe did not want it any other way.
“She kept focus, she always stayed focused on softball,” Stevens said.
She was also focused on being a firefighter. She still has a pair of boots that belonged to her grandfather and her goal is to emulate him. She will actually begin EMT school after graduation and hopes that leads to becoming a firefighter.
To get there she needed the scholarship. She had four standout years at Mountain View and had a lot of big-time programs interested, but because of a few transcript issues she wound up at Pima College.
Sipe played two seasons leading the Aztecs to a fourth place finish at the NJCAA Division I World Series with an overall record of 56-15. She was an honorable mention All-Region as well as a second team All-Conference selection.
She had offers from a number of schools, and intitially committed to New Mexico State, but fell in love with West Texas A&M. She clicked with Coach Kevin Blaskowski and fell in love with the school and surrounding community.
“From the beginning I knew this was the right place for me,” said Sipe. “Everything happens for a reason. West Texas has an environment that is irreplaceable by any D1.” Her first year in Canyon, Texas the Buffs went 44-13 and Sipe hit .353 with 13 home runs and 66 RBI. This past season the team won 60 games and Sipe elevated her average to .388, knocking 18 out of the park and driving in 74.
“Jessica is one of the most talented players to come through our program,” She was probably the best third baseman in Division II softball this year,” said Blaskowski. “She had a great career in a WT uniform.”
Like with Stevens and many others she has played for and with, Jessica Sipe the person, the fighter also made an impression.
“Jessica is a very special young lady,” said Blaskowski. “She is a fighter and a winner. She hasn’t had anything handed to her. She is responsible for her success. She is one of my favorite players ever. I would do anything for her.”
Sipe and her teammates were fighters until the end. They faced elimination games in both the regionals and super regionals. They went into the final inning of the championship game tied with Valdosta 0-0. Even after Sipe’s double and the team’s three runs, nothing came easy. Valdosta hit a pair of home runs in the bottom of the seventh, but Rita Hokianga was able to get the final outs and earn the team the national title.
“Words can’t describe how happy I am,” Sipe explained. “Especially to finish my last year of softball, let alone my last softball game, by winning a national championship title. It’s the perfect ending to something I have dreamed about since I was a little girl.”
At that moment the girl who was once the last one picked, was instead the last one standing. The girl who was picked last, finished first.