MONTCLAIR _ Just like John Wayne, one of her idols, Montclair State pitcher Alex Hill has a very serious, no-nonsense demeanor.
Hill set out to succeed and did. She is not one bit impressed by numbers, especially those that relate to her exceptional and distinguished collegiate pitching career.
Those who hoped to chat with Hill, a graduate of Parsippany Hills High School, about statistics and her place among Division III softball standouts would typically get a finger - an index one - that was aimed at her father, Glen.
"I direct them to my dad," Hill said. "I'm really proud of my records and awards. I'm just not hung up on them."
Hill's career, nothing special in her eyes, came to a close at the Division III National Championship in May in Tyler, Tex. The Red Hawks exited the tourney after a hard-fought 4-3 loss to the University of St. Thomas (MN).
"I'd trade everything for a national championship," said Hill after MSU defeated Kean in a Super Regional. "I never worried about awards, honors, records. We want a title."
The emphasis on "we" tells what Hill, loyal like Wayne, the famous Western actor, is all about. She valued her teammates and what they accomplished together. It was the Red Hawks' third consecutive trip and eighth overall to the national tourney. MSU (42-8) was fifth last season and third in 2012. After beating Trine in their first game at the tournament, the Red Hawks fell to defending champion Tufts.
"The atmosphere is electric at the nationals," Hill said. "There's nothing like it. You get to know every team. Everyone's worked so hard to get there."
Hill, selected as MSU's Outstanding Female Athlete, concluded her college career with a slew of MSU and Division III records. She went 118-24, registered 1,332 strikeouts and walked only 121 in 972 1/3 innings. Hill, whose ERA was 0.81, started 129 games and had 62 shutouts. Hill, NJAC Pitcher of the Year four times, came up with 14 saves.
On a national level, she was second in innings pitched, strikeouts and shutouts. Hill, a psychology/education major, was third in victories.
"Alex has been on an incredible journey," MSU coach Anita Kubicka said. "I was glad to be her coach and to be a part of it. She's developed a lot over the years. She's a strong athlete. She bought into what we told her would make her successful. Without players, you're nothing as a coach."
While in high school, she helped Parsippany Hills gain a berth in the Morris County Tournament semifinals for the first time in more than 25 years. Hill was a feared power pitcher but did not gain the notoriety some of the other hurlers in North Jersey did. She attributes her success at MSU to several things: A change in her alignment when pitching, the fact that there were no expectations when she arrived at MSU and the talented Red Hawks roster.
"I used to have crooked alignment," Hill said. "My back would be arched too much."
During the winter of her freshman year, Hill worked on her alignment. By spring, she was dominant.
"I changed some other things, learned new pitches," she said. "In college, it's a different level of teammates and competition. It really builds your adrenaline."
What enabled Hill to become such an exceptional player at MSU was that she there were no expectations on her coming in. Hill gained some notoriety while playing for the Vikings yet Caitlin O'Connor of Morris Knolls, Amanda Fazio of Chatham and Kristin Brain of Pequannock seemed to receive more recognition.
"There was no pressure placed on me and I didn't put it on myself," Hill said. "All I wanted to do was play softball."
Hill threw seven pitches but the curveball was her favorite.
She came to like Wayne because her father is a big fan.
"I have a weird obsession with him," Hill said.
Kubicka noted that Hill is very sarcastic and has a good sense of humor.
"Some people get it. Some don't," said Hill, who likes to read, especially historical non-fiction, play tennis and write stories and poems when she has the time.
"Alex is a very serious person but, every once in awhile, I can make her laugh," Kubicka said. "Her sarcasm is so dry."
Hill, slated to student teach in the fall in hopes of becoming a history teacher, is partially deaf in her left ear. The mild handicap has not affected her much but she did offer a humorous account of an at-bat she had when she misinterpreted an umpire.
"I called for time and I thought the ump had given it to me," Hill recalled. "I stepped out of the box and he hadn't called it. The pitcher threw the ball and I struck out."
Kubicka, though, believes Hill's deafness was beneficial.
"I think it helped," Kubicka said. "As a pitcher, Alex doesn't hear all of the chirping."
She never heard the buzz, either, when her accomplishments were mentioned.
"It was the team, all of the players I played with," Hill said. "It wasn't just me."
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