Her jersey number is 00, but Erin Stroup has been anything but a zero during her first two seasons for the University of Illinois-Springfield softball team.
The 2016 Sterling graduate came into college as an accomplished recruit for the Prairie Stars, and has made an immediate impact at the plate and in the field.
“After my first year, I learned so much that was going to help me,” Stroup said. “But I really didn’t expect to be as successful as I have, especially as soon as I started.”
Stroup also started her high school softball career in a large role as a 4-year varsity player for the Golden Warriors. She was an SVM all-area first-team selection as a junior after earning co-NIB-12 West MVP with teammate Lexy Staples and being tabbed to the second team of the Class 3A Illinois Coaches Association all-state team.
Stroup produced a monster senior season for the Warriors, finishing with single-season program records in hits (74), RBIs (53) and home runs (15). She also batted .514 with an on-base percentage of .560, slugged .986 to come out with an OPS of 1.546, smacked 17 doubles, and scored 51 runs. Stroup was named the 2016 SVM softball player of the year, NIB-12 West MVP, and 3A first-team all-state by the ICA before taking her talents to Springfield.
“I think that having coaches like Eric Staples and Ed Long helped with my mental toughness,” Stroup said. “I grew up with them as my coaches, and they joked around a lot. I definitely brought the mentality to college that if I made an error, it wasn’t the end of the world. I made sure I would get the next one.”
Illinois-Springfield coach Shannon Guthrie was aware that Stroup had started her junior and senior seasons as the Golden Warriors’ shortstop, but also considered her at second base and in the outfield. An injury to UIS’ starting shortstop right before the 2017 season gave the former Sterling star a chance to start right away, and she hasn’t relinquished the job since.
“When we recruited Erin, we could see the potential she had as a shortstop and offensively,” Guthrie said. “She had a really great career at Sterling. We knew she was going to bring a lot of talent. We wanted to have her bat in the lineup, but we weren’t sure which position she would play.”
Stroup was the only UIS freshman to appear and start in all 54 games, finishing with a .303 batting average, nine doubles, two triples, five home runs, 24 RBIs, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .930 fielding percentage. She led the Prairie Stars in runs (33), and was tied for the team-high with 14 stolen bases.
Illinois-Springfield set new program records in overall wins (40) and conference wins (22) on its way to winning the school’s first-ever Great Lakes Valley Conference regular-season title in 2018. The Prairie Stars were ranked as high as No. 12 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll (the school’s first-ever national ranking), and won an NCAA Division II Regional before falling to eventual DII national champion Southern Indiana in the super regionals.
“This year especially, we had awesome team cohesion,” Stroup said. “We worked really well together on and off the field. We really took it seriously knowing we had to go one game at a time. We worked for our short-term goals.”
Stroup was a big reason for the unprecedented success, earning first-team all-GLVC and Division II Conference Commissioners Association Midwest Region second-team honors as a sophomore. She led UIS in on-base percentage (.410), played 52 games, hit .357 with seven doubles, eight triples and one home run, scored 36 runs, drove in 33 runs, stole 11 bases, and finished with a .932 fielding percentage.
Stroup played second base for a couple of games during the 2018 season after dealing with a rib injury, as Guthrie wanted to keep her bat in the lineup while cutting down on throwing distances in the field.
The 2018 GLVC Coach of the Year also utilized Stroup’s versatility in filling out the lineup card, and didn’t notice a dip in performance whether she batted first or fourth.
“The fun part about Erin is that we can put her anywhere in the lineup,” Guthrie said. “She started the year lower in the lineup, but kept working her way up. She brings so much to the plate with her speed and power. It’s a huge threat to other teams. They don’t want to pitch around her and put her on base.”
Despite being moved wherever she was needed in the batting order, Stroup found comfort in having a routine and developing a solid relationship with her middle-infield partner.
“The last 2 years, I’ve had Katie Wooldridge as my second baseman,” Stroup said. “We became really comfortable working with each other, like knowing who has what ball and what our ranges are.”
Stroup’s name has already entered the program record books in five different offensive categories. She is currently third in triples (10), seventh in runs (69), ninth in total bases (156), 10th in hits (102) and tied for 10th in stolen bases (25).
Guthrie believes that with continued improvement, the former Sterling star has a realistic chance at becoming an All-American for the Prairie Stars.
“Every year, I honestly tell myself that I want to be better than I was the last year,” Stroup said. “That’s my season goal. I learn new things almost every practice, and that helps me get better.”