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Gillen impresses in short prep career

7/20/2009

Rachel Gillen is the one.

The rising junior is the only pitcher on her high school softball team, an only child and, according to her coach, a once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

"She's amazing. She's determined to be the best she can be, and her hitting is as good as her pitching," Archmere Academy (Claymont, Del.) coach Mary Pat Kwoka said. "Her statistics -- you'd think I made them up."

As a sophomore last season, Gillen posted a record of 17-4 and an ERA of .311. She struck out 295 batters in 135 innings and allowed only six earned runs all season.

And as amazing as her pitching numbers are, her hitting is indeed equally impressive.

Gillen batted .754 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs in 21 games last year and was named to the second-team 2009 EA Sports Softball All-American team as an outfielder -- a position she plays with her travel team, the Gold Coast Hurricanes.

"She's the kind of athlete that coaches just dream of having," Kwoka added. "It's an athlete you get not even once in a lifetime, and I'm fortunate enough to have her."

Gillen started playing softball when she was 5, but it was not the only sport in which she excelled.

Gillen was also a talented figure skater, but in sixth grade, her figure skating coaches wanted her to work out six days a week. It was time to make a decision.

"All the schedules started getting really hectic, and I had realized that I had more of a future in softball," Gillen said. "I was already starting to enjoy it more than skating and ever since I was little, I wanted to play softball in college."

She has chosen wisely.

Gillen has played with an 18-and-under softball team since eighth grade and will get the chance to show her skills against some of the best players in the country Tuesday in the Under Armour All-America game at Disney's Wide World of Sports complex.

For all the physical tools Gillen has, her mental makeup is what sets her apart from other athletes her age.

The 16-year-old recalls a moment in eighth grade when she realized she had the ability to play in college.

Playing in the Rising Stars tournament in Florida that January, Gillen struggled in her first appearance.

"My first day out, I got rocked. I'm pretty sure we got run-ruled by the other team. I was a mess after the game," Gillen said.

Undeterred, Gillen came out the next day and threw a perfect game against a team from Florida.

"It was my mentality from being completely down the day before to the next day going out and being completely confident and pitching well against a team from Florida that was probably three years older than me," Gillen added. "That's when I realized that I can do this."

That mentality has continued to serve her well.

Gillen was thrust into the role of every-day starting pitcher when she entered Archmere as a freshman.

Kwoka was brought on as softball coach at Archmere in 2007 and immediately recognized Gillen's talent. Kwoka had been the girls' volleyball coach at the school previously.

"After about the third pitch during warm-ups when I walked into the gym, I knew she was something special and remarkable," Kwoka recalled. "She's been playing with 18-year-olds at the top level on one of the best teams in the country in her summer league."

Gillen's freshman year proved remarkable.

In the circle, Gillen fashioned a .450 ERA and a 20-3 record. She struck out 276 batters that season.

"She's the type of player that I would liked to have played with," Kwoka added. "You want her as a teammate because you know she's going to take you to the next level."

Even though Gillen will be just a junior, she already has gotten interest from almost every major college in the country. Kwoka said she receives calls daily from colleges wanting to know whether Gillen has made a decision.

Although she has not made a final choice, Gillen said that she has narrowed her choice of colleges to six and that she expects to make a decision before the beginning of her junior season.

Gillen declined to name which schools have made her final six.

No matter which school Gillen chooses, she is already a star in Delaware and is starting to garner the same type of attention another former Delaware athlete received.

"She is the Elena Delle Donne of softball," Kwoka said. "She was well-known midway through her freshman year. Everybody said she was a good pitcher, and then she took off and became an outstanding pitcher. To anybody that knows softball in Delaware, her name has got to be the first or second name out of their mouth -- no question."

Delle Donne played girls' basketball for Ursuline Academy (Wilmington, Del.) and was considered the No. 1 basketball prospect in the country for the Class of 2008.

So how does Gillen handle the pressure of being the center of attention for her school and colleges?

"It's been awesome to be completely honest," Gillen said. "I've been so grateful for everything that I've been given and earned through hard work. I've worked really hard over the past six years, and I'm grateful that it's starting to pay off."

"The sky's the limit for Rachel," Kwoka said. "She has expectations and goals that are at top levels, and she continues to strive. She's definitely going to put softball [on the map] for Delaware."

Gillen will get the chance to show how much her hard work has paid off in the Under Armour game next week.

The rising junior will be one of only four 2011 graduates on the 24-girl roster and will join some of the best pitchers in the country, including Rachele Fico from Masuk High School (Monroe, Conn.) and Brittany O'Donnell from Red Bank Catholic (N.J.).

Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com