Morgan Sibble, admittedly, might not fit the traditional mold of an overpowering pitcher.
At 5-foot-4, she isn’t particularly tall. She didn’t throw quite as hard as some of her counterparts, and, as her coach, Matt Burke, pointed out at the recent Big 30 all-star photoshoot, she has especially small hands.
But then, what, exactly, constitutes the conventional ace?
“The neat thing about softball,” Burke said, “… in 2016, (Wellsville pitcher) Amy Lorshbaugh won Player of the Year, and she’s 6 feet tall, very long, lanky, long fingers and getting close to 60 mph, and Morgan is the opposite — she has to hit her spots with great command, she throws three pitches really well.
“There’s no specific mold of what a pitcher should be or look like to have success, because they’re two opposite ends of the spectrum as far as characteristics go, but they were both amazing.”
Sibble was the everyday starter, and top player, on one of the best teams in the Big 30 this spring.
In the circle, she went a sparkling 18-2 with a 1.56 ERA and 135 strikeouts in 121 innings. At the plate, she hit .409 as Wellsville’s No. 3 hitter and had an on-base percentage of .491.
With Sibble leading the way, the Lions had one of their best years in recent memory, going 19-2 and reaching the Section 5 Class B2 championship. Their only losses came to a Virginia high school with an enrollment of 1,870 and in the sectional title game to Waterloo, a top 10 team in the state.
In a season where there was no runaway victor and a handful of deserving candidates, those factors are what set Sibble apart as the 2019 Geraldine Harrington Lacney Award winner for Big 30 Player of the Year.
“IT’S definitely a big honor, especially having those disadvantages for pitching,” she said. “I’m like the opposite, so I felt like I had to put in more work to get to where I wanted to be. So just having the huge recognition of being Player of the Year, especially with so many other talented people, is just really great.”
From a young age, Sibble offset her slight lack of velocity with a top-notch changeup. In recent years, she added an effective cutter (as a lefty, the pitch moves in on right-handed batters), which became her “out pitch.”
The results were evident.
A three-year starter, she guided Wellsville to a mark of 45-15 and at least one playoff victory in each campaign (her 43 pitching triumphs are second-most in program history to Lorshbaugh’s 48). This year, she was at her very best, allowing one earned run or fewer in 14 of 18 wins, including in playoff victories over Dansville (4-1) and LeRoy (3-1).
Burke estimated that Sibble threw her cutter on 75% of her pitches during the Lions’ playoff run, a key reason they were ultimately able to reach the championship game. He attributes her success to the time she’s put in on that craft.
“(It’s) the time and effort that she’s put in during the offseason,” he said, “and that’s been throughout her high school career. The amount of pitches that she’s thrown in the offseason has really allowed her to come into each season ready to roll and be very sharp from the first pitch of the season on.”
IN A WAY, Wellsville’s successful spring was predetermined. The Lions brought back the bulk of a team that went 15-6 and reached the sectional quarterfinals in 2018. They had hitters up and down the lineup, including fellow Big 30 all-star Matti Burke.
“We had great chemistry on this year’s team, and Morgan was a big part of that,” Burke said.
Much of that 19-2 campaign, however, hinged on Sibble, and she delivered, leading the Lions to a final Class B state ranking of No. 16.
“I just knew I had to work because last year we had a great season, and I just wanted to make sure in the offseason that I had everything down pat, that I was going to throw strikes,” said Sibble, who is planning on entering the occupational therapy program at D’Youville, where she will explore continuing her softball career. “I really wanted to be super consistent my last year.
“I had a really great team to back me up, too. Our hitting was amazing — all the way through the lineup, there was no weak hitter at all. I knew that even if I wasn’t having my best game, we’d still have a good chance of winning, just because my team was really solid.”
SIBBLE highlights a Big 30 all-star team that features just four repeat selections: Sydney Root (Bolivar-Richburg), Macy Miller (Fillmore), Emily Daciw (Genesee Valley) and Elyse Graham (Olean). The second Player of the Year from Wellsville, alongside Lorshbaugh, since the award was established in 2006, she continued a trend in which the winner has come from one of just four schools: B-R, Olean, Wellsville and Smethport.
And though the Lions were a power from top to bottom, Burke described Sibble as “the heart and soul” of the team.
“She was one of our senior captains; our players looked to her for leadership, and every time, she provided it,” Burke said. “Most games, she was dominant, but there were some games where she really battled through adversity.
“It’s a tribute to her character of how successful she was this year. She’s a competitor. It’s very rewarding to see her success, but also see the connection between how hard she works and how successful she’s been able to be.”