Pro softball league MVP Pendley eyes Olympics in 2020

Shelby Pendley plays defense during the recent NFP series. The former UNM assistant wants to return to coaching — someday. (Courtesy of Shelby Pendley)

Postseason softball honors are nothing new for Shelby Pendley.

She was an All-State and All-Metro selection during her Rio Rancho High School days (while doubling as a state champion in the javelin throw).

At the University of Oklahoma, she was a three-time All-American and a two-time Big 12 Player of the Year. She was the National Fast Pitch pro softball league Rookie of the Year in 2015.

So, then, when Pendley was named Most Valuable Player for her performance in the recent 2018 NPF championship series, she was, of course, pleased – yet, took the honor in stride.

“I wasn’t thinking about being the MVP,” Pendley said in a recent phone interview. “I was just playing softball, trying to help my team win.”

So she did. In Rosemont, Ill., Pendley’s Florida-based USSSA Pride swept the best-of-five series against the Chicago Bandits. It’s the first time the Pride has hoisted the Cowles Cup title since 2014, the year before Pendley joined the team.

Pendley’s two-run homer was the decisive blow in game one, which the Pride won 3-2. But it was her high-leaping, perfectly timed snag from her shortstop position of a Bandits line drive, for the final out of a 3-0 victory in game two, that has garnered the most attention.

Did we mention she was a Big -12 All-Defensive Team selection as an OU junior in 2014?

“I just tried to extend a little bit, and I caught it,” Pendley, 25, said of the spectacular catch, which can be viewed at espnW.com. (Click on “video.”)

“There’s so many plays like that where they tick off my glove just because the reach wasn’t there or the jump wasn’t there. … I had a good jump. I had a good reach.

“It was just all there at that point in time.”

Pendley began her college career at Arizona but transferred to Oklahoma after one season, helping the Sooners win an NCAA title as a sophomore in 2013. Though she played only three years at OU, she ranks second in program history in career home runs with 65. Her four-year total of 84 homers was sixth-best in NCAA history when she finished.

Though the NPF was founded in 2004 – and existed under a different name for four years prior – Pendley was unaware of its existence until her senior year at Oklahoma.

“I knew there was a pro league in Japan, and I always wanted to go play in the league in Japan after college,” she said. “… When I found out there was a pro league (in the U.S.), heck, yeah, I wanted to play in it.”

After her rookie year with the Pride in 2015, Pendley accepted a job as an assistant softball coach at the University of New Mexico. But she worked only one season at UNM, discovering that combining a coaching career with a playing career was problematic.

“I’m completely thankful for the opportunity (at UNM). I’m glad I did it,” she said. “But I learned that it’s very hard to coach and then go play in the summer and be ready.

“Ultimately, it wasn’t fair to the kids at UNM. … I wasn’t there for recruiting in the summer, I wasn’t there for camps.”

Pendley remains keenly interested in coaching but will postpone any such plans until she’s done playing.

She’s also keenly interested in softball’s return as an Olympic sport two years from now in Tokyo. Though she played on the U.S. junior national team at an international competition in 2010, between her junior and senior years at Rio Rancho, she has never been a senior national team member.

“Who wouldn’t want to compete in an Olympics?” she said. “That’s not something everybody has the opportunity to do. … So, yeah, it’s on my mind.”

Pendley and her younger sister, Nicole, her former Rio Rancho, Oklahoma and current USSSA teammate, live in Moore, Okla., between Norman and Oklahoma City. Shelby drove to Albuquerque on Wednesday to visit family and meet her brand-new nephew, her older brother Matthew’s second child.

She then planned a drive to Colorado to see her fiancé, former Rio Rancho catcher Ethan McCranie, who works as a baseball umpire in the rookie Pioneer League.

“As players, we always think umpires suck,” she said, laughing. “But he’s actually a good one.”

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