By Dave Ongie, News Editor
There is a 16-foot circle in the middle of every softball diamond. In order to thrive inside that circle, you’ve got to have the right blend of talent, tenacity and mental toughness to handle the pressure that comes with being a pitcher.
Over the course of her high school career, Science Hill senior Sejal Neas has proven she has the right stuff to thrive inside that circle, and the Appalachian State signee is excited to embrace the pressure that comes with being her team’s ace pitcher.
“It’s like my favorite thing,” Neas said. “I thrive off of pressure. That’s one of the things I like most about myself, because I know for a lot of people that kind of gets to them mentally. You’ve just got to be mentally strong all the time.”
Neas’ mental toughness was forged at a young age. She battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia for five years, enduring round after round of treatment in addition to spinal fusions. In the end, she emerged victorious over the disease with a unique outlook on life.
“Now I’m glad I can say I went through that because that made me stronger physically and mentally,” Neas said. “I think that really comes out as I play because the passion I have when I pitch is like no other, and I think I got a lot of the love for it through what I went through when I was younger.”
As a youngster, Neas dove headlong into basketball, softball and soccer, playing all three sports until the time she was 9 or 10. Her early battle with cancer compelled her to attack each sport with a sense of urgency unmatched by the other kids she played with, and her burst of adrenaline was apparent every time she competed.
She walked into that circle for the first time when she was 9, and it didn’t take very long for basketball and soccer to fall by the wayside as she focused all her tenacity into her new love.
“All the sense of urgency, the adrenaline, I just feel it all when I’m pitching,” she said. “It’s right in the moment.”
Neas’ talent and toughness were on full display at a softball showcase in the fall of 2019, and they caught the attention of Appalachian State head coach Shelly Hoerner. The timing couldn’t have been better since the COVID-19 pandemic would ultimately shut down Neas’ junior season in the spring of 2020 before it really got started, limiting her ability to display her talent for college coaches.
The pandemic also prevented a talented Science Hill team from contending for a conference title and potentially making an extended postseason run. As you might imagine, Neas is channeling her energy into making up for lost time during her senior season.
“It was really upsetting last year because I knew what our team was capable of, and it didn’t work in our favor,” she said. “I’m really excited this year because we have a really great team and if we just keep working, we can achieve the things we could have achieved last year.”
Inside the circle, Neas blocks out everything and focuses only on the catcher’s mitt that marks her target. Her dad is fond of telling her to “keep her blinders on” in order to block out all distractions and execute each pitch.
But it’s a different story outside the circle for Neas this spring as she tries to savor her final season at Science Hill.
“I’m just loving every moment of my senior year, and I’m trying to make the best out of every single practice, every single team get-together,” she said. “I’m trying to treasure it as much as possible before graduation.”
Neas struck out 181 batters and hit 10 home runs as a sophomore, and she’ll be focused on improving on those totals during her senior season as she focuses on every pitch and every at-bat while making memories with her teammates that will last a lifetime.
“You don’t know when your last game will be,” Neas said. “You don’t know if you’ll wake up the next day, so that’s why you have to live your life to the fullest no matter what your situation is.”Ring of Fire: Science Hill’s Neas thrives on pressure