By Blake Baxter
EUREKA – It's unclear if Erin Smith will have another chance to pitch for Eureka College, but her place in Red Devil lore has already been cemented.
In three-plus seasons in maroon and gold, the senior right-handed pitcher experienced nearly unparalleled success in the circle.
For starters, the Dunlap product was the ace who led the Red Devils to the NCAA Tournament for only the second time in program history last May.
She pitched every inning of the Red Devils' final seven games of the season as the team clinched its first-ever St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference league and tournament titles before ending the historic run on the national stage.
"It was definitely stressful as times," Smith said. "Being the oldest and most experienced pitcher, I did what I could and tried to be a leader.
"I have a lot of fond memories with the girls from last year. It's something I'll always be thankful for."
Smith is currently in the top 10 of the EC record book in four major pitching categories.
She's tied for fourth in program history in strikeouts with 201, ranks sixth in career ERA at 2.27 and is eighth in innings pitched with 364.
And, perhaps most impressively, Smith is fourth in career wins in program history with 40, only eight away from becoming the Red Devils' all-time leader. After tying the single-season record for wins last season with 17, it was all but a foregone conclusion that she would finish her collegiate career at the top of the EC record book.
"That's disappointing, obviously," Smith said after the 2020 season ended prematurely due to the global pandemic. "But all I can do is be happy with what I've done already."
Smith's softball career has been one long, happy road, and she appeared to be gearing up for a prolific final stretch.
The Red Devils were selected to repeat as SLIAC champions in the preseason poll by league coaches, and in March, the team went 8-2 in 10 games at the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Smith was named SLIAC Pitcher of the Week for the fourth time in her career after recording a .55 ERA in 25 1 1/3 innings during the Red Devils' trip. She allowed just two earned runs, struck out 14 batters and only conceded two walks while going 2-1 and picking up her first save in two years.
"The couple (appearances) at the end I was most proud of myself," Smith said. "Coming in in relief and just nailing it down."
Softball has more or less always been a part of Smith's life. Influenced by her dad, J.D. Smith, Erin was playing tee ball at an early age and already pitching at 8 or 9. She played travel ball in Dunlap, Washington, Morton, Peoria – anywhere that needed a pitcher or catcher.
"Every single weekend was a tournament," Smith said. "I got so used to being so busy every single summer. I loved it, even though it was crazy."
In high school, Smith caught and played first base more than she pitched. She hoped she'd have a successful career at EC, but she certainly didn't foresee it turning out the way it did.
"It's been amazing," said Smith, who is majoring in accounting and business. "Playing college ball is something I wanted to do for years, ever since I was a kid, and I'm glad I made the choice to go to Eureka.
"I'm happy we went as far as we did last year. I've met so many people that I'm going to be friends with for life, so that's what I'm going to be happiest about in the long term."