ORONO, Maine — When Alyssa Derrick trots over to third base before the start of the first inning, she knows the opposing third-base coach will probably ask her the question she hears all the time.
“Oh my God! How tall are you?” grinned Derrick, a sophomore at the University of Maine.
Derrick is not a prototypical college third baseman. She stands 6-foot-3.
“On our spring trip, we were in Colorado and the players on the team we were going to play in the next game were asking our pitchers how tall I was. They were putting bets on it,” said Derrick.
“I have realized that a lot of softball players are under 6 feet,” she added.
Derrick takes it in stride and is enjoying another outstanding year for the Black Bears.
The 2016 America East Rookie of the Year has belted 12 home runs so far and is averaging 0.36 homers per game, which ranks sixth in the country. Her 12 homers rank 33rd in Division I.
“Throughout my life, I’ve been told I was too tall to be an infielder,” said Derrick. “They said I would never make it in Division I as an infielder; I could only make it as an outfielder.”
Coming from the small town of Coventry, Rhode Island, she was also told she wouldn’t be able to play a Division I sport.
“So what if I’m from Rhode Island? So what if I’m 6-foot-3?” posed Derrick. “Since the time I could talk, I always told my parents I was going to be on TV one day. I was going to be a Division I softball player. That was my dream and now I’m living my dream.
“I’ve already proved [the skeptics] wrong,” she said.
“That has been a great motivator for her,” said UMaine head coach Mike Coutts. “She feels she has a lot to prove and that drives her both academically and on the field.”
Derrick also took advantage of her height on the basketball court as she was a 1,000-point scorer at Coventry High School.
Derrick has been on a tear of late for the America East-leading Black Bears. She has hit five homers with nine RBIs in her last five games. She has knocked in at least one run in at least nine of her last 10 games and has 17 RBIs during that span.
Derrick is in the midst of an eight-game hitting streak (14-for-27, .519) which has raised her average to .296.
She leads the conference in homers and her 29 RBIs rank fourth. And after striking out 29 times through her first 27 games, she hasn’t struck out in her last six. She also leads the team in total bases (66) and slugging percentage (.673).
UMaine is 9-1 in conference play and Derrick has hit .515 in those games with five homers and 15 RBIs. She has been the conference player of the week the last two weeks.
She struggled early this season and went six games without a hit during the spring trip.
“Her swing had gotten long. But then she shortened it and she was able to stay inside the ball which enabled her to use her strength to hit balls hard and a long ways,” said Coutts.
Derrick had opted for a heavier bat, “because since I was a power hitter, I thought I needed a heavier bat. And I thought I had to swing harder to get the same [bat] speed because I was using a heavier bat.
“But then I dropped back to a lighter bat I had used my whole life and I felt much more natural swinging. I didn’t have to try to swing harder,” she explained.
She has also learned to lay off changeups in the dirt and rise balls that are out of the strike zone because pitchers were using those pitches to get her out.
Derrick asked her teammate, pitcher Molly Flowers, to help her out.
“Molly has a really good rise ball and changeup and I told her to throw me rise balls and changeups in practice and to not go easy on me. I had to learn to stay off them,” said Derrick.
In addition to her offense, she has also become a capable third baseman in only her second season there. She was a shortstop in high school.
“It’s all reaction. When the ball is hit to you, you don’t have to think. You just go for it,” said Derrick.
She often stays after practice and takes extra ground balls from Coutts.
“I’ll hit her an extra 75 to 100 ground balls,” said Coutts. “She works hard. She really loves to play third base. She embraces all the challenges that go with playing third.”
Derrick also takes extra batting practice.
“If you go the extra mile, you’ll be rewarded for it,” she said.
Last season, she helped lead UMaine to its first conference tournament title and NCAA tournament berth since 2004 when she hit .308 with a team-leading eight homers and 42 RBIs. She was chosen the the conference rookie of the year.
“She always gives us a nice source of power and somebody who can drive in runs,” said senior shortstop Felicia Lennon. “And her range and arm strength at third has been really important to us.”
Lennon sees Derrick’s height as an advantage.
“It helps me out because any ball hit toward the shortstop hole, she has long enough arms and legs to reach it,” said Lennon.
“She is a clutch hitter. Whenever we’re down and we have a couple people on base, she’ll come through more often than not,” said senior outfielder Chloe Douglass.
Derrick said she was influenced by college athletes growing up.
“I always looked up to them and what they did on and off the field,” she said. “I’ve gone back home and helped coach travel teams and I even stayed up here last summer and worked at some clinics. The way the kids look up to you is mesmerizing.
“I want to be their idol,” said Derrick, who would love to see some youngsters who have watched her play at UMaine and talked to her be able to realize their own dreams.
Toward that end, the daughter of Kara Verrier and Jason Derrick wants to continue to improve. She hopes to help lead the Black Bears earn another conference tournament title and NCAA berth.