From pinch hitter to starter, Guessford gets pitch she was waiting for


by Brock Borgeson, Sports Editor

Between her senior year of high school and freshman year of college, junior first baseman Rachel Guessford was still undecided in her college decision.

It was between Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge, where she’d follow a friend in her college path, and Simpson College, right down the road from her home in Des Moines.

“My parents were like, ‘you need to figure it out’ [and choose a college],” Guessford said. 

With time ticking down, Guessford made the decision to attend Simpson, the school her grandfather had attended years before.

Guessford also had familiarity with assistant coach Kyle Owens, and of course, softball’s success at Simpson was a big draw for the Lincoln High School graduate, undecided on her major heading into college.

“They always tell you not to go to a school for the sports, but I totally did, just because I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I had no idea what I wanted to major in,” Guessford said. “I didn’t even figure it out until a year ago.”

Guessford has now figured it out and is set on her major in exercise science with a minor in sports administration.

Settling in on the field

Whether it was patience or just the need for more time as she made her college decision, Guessford would find that patience would be important in her softball career with the Storm.

Getting just 19 at-bats her freshman year, largely as a pinch hitter, Guessford showed flashes of power, belting three home runs although she hit only .211. 

Another year of experience brought Guessford more success, hitting a robust .500, going 15-30 as a pinch hitter in 30 games as a sophomore.

Guessford says she knew her enjoyed as a pinch-hitter, but like any player, she was ready for more.

“The past years I knew my role,” Guessford said. “It wasn’t going to be that big. Going into this year, I was kind of excited and nervous to get more playing time and kind anxious knowing I was going to get a bigger role than I have had.”

And a bigger role it has been for Guessford, who carried her hot finish in 2014 with her, going 6-for-8 with six RBI and one home run in her final four games she played in 2014.

“She started off the year almost the way she finished last season,” head coach Henry Christowski said. “This year, she has come on with a defensive position as well and has been doing the same type of thing.”

Often, players that add new responsibilities as fielders taper off with their performance at the plate; for Guessford, it’s a challenge she relishes.

“I like being in the field,” Guessford said. “This year, I feel that if I do struggle offensively or defensively, I can make up for it on the other end. It was also really hard last year trying to go from getting one at-bat every seven innings or so to being up every two or three innings. I like it a lot better; it’s a lot less pressure.” 

With the new role as starting first baseman in 2015, Guessford began blazing hot, hitting a home run in each of the team’s first four games while going 7-for-13 with 11 RBI to start the year.

While cooling off as of late in Iowa Conference play, Guessford’s stat line still reflects a player who has seized the opportunity for more playing time.

The team is 30 games into 2015, and Guessford is hitting .374, with six home runs, 27 RBI, 12 runs and 12 walks. Guessford is also second on the team in on-base percentage at .442 with a .604 slugging percentage.

Her totals in home runs, batting average, RBI, on-base percentage and hits are all good enough for second on the team, just behind catcher Tori Haag.

IIAC Individual Rankings:

RBI – 12th (27)

Home runs – 3rd (6)

Total bases – T-8th (55)

Slugging percentage – 13th (.604)

Hits – T-13th (34)

Chances (Fielding) – 3rd (220) 

Senior starting second baseman, Ashley Prettyman, has noticed and applauded the development in Guessford’s game.

“I think, this year, as a player and leader she has really stepped up,” Prettyman said. “With having more playing time and being more relaxed, she’s able to show more of what she is capable of doing. A lot of the younger girls look up to her for her hitting and play on the field.”

Prettyman, who transferred from Division II Wayne State College after her freshman year, almost didn’t come to Simpson because she saw Guessford was attending Simpson.

Let’s just say East Des Moines High School Scarlets don’t get along with Lincoln High School Rail Splitters.

“I almost didn’t come here because she [Guessford] was on the team,” Prettyman said. “I was like ‘I’m not going to deal with her.’”

Guessford confirmed that statement.

“I’ve had that effect on a lot of people,” Guessford said with a smile. “In fact, our teammate Abbie VanVleet didn’t want to transfer here either. Kinsey Van Houten [junior softball player and Hoover High School graduate] would say all the time, ‘oh I hated you [in high school].’”

That hatred from afar has dissolved into friendship between Prettyman and Guessford now, who find themselves as catch partners on the field and slow-pitch softball teammates in the summer, playing at the Greater Des Moines Complex in Altoona 

Prettyman knows Guessford so well, she reminded her of one her most memorable moments of her career on the field.

“Coach put me into pinch-hit in a game against Buena Vista University my freshman year,” Guessford said. “I was not ready to hit. It was so cold, I had four layers on and I was like, holy crap.”

Guessford proved style doesn’t always correlate with play on the field.

“Immediately, I got down 0-2, being totally unprepared, and then I just swing at this outside pitch and it literally goes, ‘neorp!’, going around the right field pole,” Guessford said. “I was like, ‘oh my God, did that go over?!’ We all lost it and I immediately fixed my pants when I got to home.”

Since then, Guessford added seven more home runs to her career total, hoping to put up more as Simpson stands at seventh in the IIAC at 1-5 in conference play, despite being 22-8 overall and as high as No. 10 in the nation earlier this year.

The Storm have eight more IIAC games remaining and 10 overall before postseason play as they push for their third national title.

Regardless if that comes, Guessford knows she’ll have slow-pitch waiting for her and Ashley after the season if they still need the softball fix.