By TIM KELLY
No one can be sure what the Ocean City High School softball team will accomplish next spring. Coming off a 16-6 record and a state tournament game win in 2018 and with some good players returning, there’s reason for optimism.
One thing for certain is that Abigail Craige – a big reason the Red Raiders were so successful – will enjoy her senior season now that she has committed to her college of choice, Virginia Wesleyan. The decision allowed the hard-hitting catcher and all-star scholar to take the college selection process off her plate.
“It feels really great,” Abigail said of her decision to bring her academic and athletic talents to the Virginia Beach-based university. “I’m really looking forward to being part of such a successful (college) program, and they have a five-year engineering program (that includes a post-bachelor degree year) with Old Dominion University.”
Abigail, a 16-year-old from the Seaville section of Upper Township, said her mind was made up following a visit to the campus on Sept. 12. She formalized her verbal commitment shortly thereafter.
“I’m really impressed with the team and the coach (Brandon Elliott) is amazing,” she said. “After my last visit, I made the decision. About 20 minutes into the ride home we stopped at a highway rest stop and I told (her parents), ‘This is where I want to be.’”
Virginia Wesleyan beat out two other finalists, Nova University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“MIT has an awesome softball program. But I want to be a part of (the success at Wesleyan),” Abigail said.
Her presence will further enhance a softball powerhouse that won 11 Old Dominion Athletic Conference championships since 1993, including four of the last six. The Marlins also won back-to-back NCAA Division III national titles in 2017 and 2018 and took third place last season.
Craige, who carries a 4.32 grade point average and plans on specializing in either civil or aerospace engineering, will be as invested academically on a softball team that produced six academic All-Americans last year.
“I’ve wanted to be an engineer for a long time,” she said. “It started with Legos. I always liked to build things.”
Abigail became more interested in the aerospace side of the field when an experiment she worked on with Alexia Schmidt and Madison Morgan was chosen to be a part of NASA’s Student Spaceflight Experiments Program and was launched into space last spring.
Their experiment dealt with testing brine shrimp as a sustainable food source for astronauts. Abigail said she became interested in possibly working in the space program after watching her experiment blast off from Kennedy Space Center.
It was a big spring for Abigail, whose softball career was blasting off as well. The catcher-third baseman was also a big contributor on her South Jersey Thunder travel team. She says she attracted the attention of recruiters because of her ability as a catcher and working with pitchers.
“But I think my hitting is what really interested (the coaches who recruited her),” she said.
She hit .400 as a junior with eight doubles, two triples and a pair of home runs.
Defensively, she set the school record for throwing out runners attempting to steal a base in a season, doing so seven times.
The website OCHSsport.com named her to the all-decade team as its starting catcher.
She has very good DNA in the sport. Her mom Amy was a starter on an Ocean City championship team in the 1990s, and her dad was a pitcher at Stockton College (now University).
“My dad has coached me a lot, and I’ve learned a lot,” Abigail said.
Her first interest from Brandon Elliott was unplanned, she said. The Marlins’ coach was scouting another girl in a showcase tournament involving her travel team, when Abigail’s bat made him change his recruiting focus.
“I hit a home run in a pretty big game on a 3-2 count. I think that impressed him,” she said.