Player of the decade: Alexis Silkwood, P,
Dan Wiedman remembers the exact moment he knew Alexis Silkwood had a special talent.
The veteran softball coach recruited Silkwood, then just 12 years old, to pitch for his Bluff City Storm club team in a talent-rich Under-16 tournament 13 years ago.
“I needed a pitcher and she had a pretty good reputation, even though she wasn’t that old,” Wiedman recalled. “So I asked her mom if she would like to pitch. She jumped at the opportunity.”
Wiedman figured he might need to nurse Silkwood along in her first foray against older, tougher competition.
In the very first inning, Wiedman, who regularly called pitches for his team, signaled to the catcher for a fastball low and away.
Silkwood calmly looked into the dugout and shook her head in disagreement.
“I’m thinking, 'What is this little 12-year-old squirt doing shaking me off?' ” Wiedman said. “I couldn’t believe it. But I let her have her way.
"It was the smartest move I ever made.”
Silkwood went on to pitch the Storm to the tournament title.
It signaled the beginning of an illustrious career.
The diminutive left-hander went on to become one of the top high school pitchers in the state during a stellar four-year career at Alton Marquette.
From there, she fashioned an impressive four-year stint at Mississippi State University, setting school records in five different pitching categories — including wins (59) and strikeouts (555).
Silkwood went on to play three years in the National Pro Fastpitch league for the Akron Racers and Scrap Yard Dawgs of Conroe, Texas.
And her domination began in earnest that summer while wowing Wiedman, a veteran softball player and coach, with her cool composure under pressure.
“From that point on, I just left her alone,” he said. “She was that good.”
Silkwood, now 25 years old, remembers the moment vividly. She never hesitated in disagreeing with her more experienced coach.
“I was pretty stubborn back then,” Silkwood said. “I knew what I wanted to throw.”
Silkwood's mother, Staci Nelson, coached Alexis throughout her career until college. Nelson remembers laughing at the insistence of her daughter.
“Even back then, she’d study hitters,” Nelson said. “She knew what would work and what wouldn’t.”
Silkwood, despite standing just 5-foot-4, became a giant in high school annals. Of the 20 state career pitching records listed in the Illinois High School Association record book, Silkwood still holds eight of them, including most career wins (124), strikeouts (1,907) and no-hitters (54). She also has marks in most strikeouts in a season (501 in 2011), most career shutouts (100), shutouts in a season (28 in 2012), no-hitters in a season (19 in 2012) and most successive no-hitters (7 in 2013).
Those impressive numbers may never be broken. Her career strikeout total is 288 ahead of her nearest competitor. The 54 no-hitters are 16 ahead of former Roxana High standout Dylan Mathis.
“Her numbers are great. They’re out there for everyone to see,” said Wiedman, who still coaches at Marquette. “But unless you’ve seen here over the years, you have no idea what a great work ethic she had. After watching her all this time and coaching her four years, I told her she’s the only player that never ever dogged it out there in practice or in a game. Not for one minute.”
But Silkwood’s finest hour may have come at the plate. Her ninth-inning home run led the Explorers to a 6-5 win over Sherrard in the Athens Super-Sectional in 2010. Marquette trailed 4-0 late in that contest and scored twice in the sixth and seventh innings to tie the game.
“When I look back on all the games and all the memories, it’s games like that one that I remember most,” Silkwood said. “It got us to state, it was great for the team, everybody was going crazy. At the end, we just looked at each other and said, 'We won this.' ”
Silkwood always has been a team-first person.
“The no-hitters, the strikeouts, they’re all nice. But I’ve never been much of a numbers person,” she said. “Getting to state with my friends, that was so huge.”
Silkwood helped Marquette to the state tournament three times. The Explorers finished fourth in 2010, third in 2011 and second in 2013.
“Doing things like that for the school, it’s something you never forget,” she said.
Silkwood, who went 124-15 with an 0.34 ERA at Marquette, grew up around softball and deflects most of the credit for her success to her mother, a former pitching standout at Piasa Southwestern.
“I had a fastball, a changeup and an attitude,” said the former Staci Fedrick, a 1986 grad.
That attitude rubbed off on Alexis, who carried a bulldog mentality into the circle at all times.
“She would get that look on her face and you just knew she wasn’t going to lose,” Wiedman said.
Staci and Wiedman, along with a host of other pitching specialists, helped shape Alexis’ game. Her father, Joe, pitched for three years in the St. Louis Cardinals minor-league system.
Silkwood won a school record 59 games at Mississippi State. But her fondest memory came when the Bulldogs rallied with five runs in the seventh inning to record a 5-3 win over Florida in 2015, breaking a long losing streak against the Southeastern Conference power Gators.
For now, Silkwood says her pitching days are over. She recently received a master’s degree in sports administration from the University of Louisville after earning a bachelor’s degree upon graduating from Mississippi State in 2018.
She spent the spring as a graduate manager for the softball team at Louisville and hopes to parlay that into a job as a pitching coach on the NCAA Division I level next spring.
Silkwood left behind a legacy wherever she went. And she will continue to do so.
“I don’t want to just be remembered as a pitcher,” she said. “I want to be remembered as a competitor.”
We also wish to congratulate Meghan Schorman, Class of 2018 for being named to the All-Decade Third Team.
P: Meghan Schorman, Alton Marquette
Graduation year: 2018
Set a school record with 36 wins during the 2018 campaign. Currently pitching at the University of Kentucky.