By Matt Williams, Staff writer
When she started out at St. Michael's College four years ago, Chandler Wilder (Beverly, Mass./Bishop Fenwick) didn't know if she's have time to try out for the softball team.
By the time she graduated, though, Wilder had etched out a place in the Purple Knights program record books.
A Bishop Fenwick graduate and native of Beverly, Wilder was a two-year captain for the St. Michael's softball squad and set program career and single season records for sacrifice hits. This past week, she was surprised to learn she led the entire country in Division 2 in sac hits when St. Michael's received a plaque from the NCAA denoting her as the 2018 "statistical champion" with 20 sacrifice hits and 0.57 per game.
"I had no idea. I didn't keep up to date with the stats because thinking about it would stress me out," Wilder said. "My boyfriend and my dad would both look online and see where I ranked, but I told them not to tell me."
Just what it a sacrifice hit? Anytime the batter gives herself up to move the runner up a base (from first to second most commonly) she gets credited with a sac hit. Typically, it comes on a bunt but in softball a soft slap-hit can also get the job done.
Wilder racked up 20 of those in her senior season in 2018 and had 36 in her career for a Purple Knights record.
"We had a really good leadoff hitter that was always on-base, so I saw it as my job to get her over to the next base," Wilder said. "You try to slap it through or hit it softly enough that you can make it to first; if I was out or not wasn't as important as placing it where it was supposed to so the runner can advance."
A natural righty, Wilder first learned the slap hitting technique when she was playing for coach Paul Lyman and the Crusaders of Bishop Fenwick. As a sophomore, she discovered she had a great slap swing from the left side and would even switch hit to try to hone that skill.
"It came naturally to me, but if there were two outs or no runner to move along I'd turn around and hit righty," she recalled with a laugh. "After that first year when I was a sophomore, I focused more on my power and being a threat as a lefty, and stayed on that side full-time."
It was a skill that translated to the college game at St. Michael's in Vermont. Wilder was a starter in the outfield immediately and wound up playing in 120 career games. Her at-bats and hits were limited because of how often she laid down a bunt and she had just one RBI with 44 career hits (including a career-best 16 as a senior). Manning center field, she had a fielding percentage of 1.000 as a senior, going the entire season without making an error.
Now 22, Wilder is starting a graduate program in elementary education at Endicott College. She'll be working as a teacher's aide in Marblehead as part of the program, and feels like her career path had a big influence on her athletic career — especially when it came to being a two-year captain in college.
"I think it was the teacher in," Wilder said of her leadership style. "I was always motivated to lead by example and help the young players. I had great seniors when I started and I really wanted to be like them. Plus, having education courses on leadership, running a classroom and the Purple Knight leadership academy we have really guided me in that regard."
With collegiate softball days behind her, Wilder has been playing slow pitch in a co-ed league and even tired hitting from the right side again. She's particularly proud of setting a record in such an unselfish category, especially when she considers how close she can to not going out for the team at all.
"The crazy thing if I wasn't going to play. I was worried I'd have too much on my plate," Wilder remembered. "When we were coming to school my dad threw my softball bag in at the last second, just in case I decided to go for it.
"I'm so glad I did and I can't imagine what the four years would've been like if I didn't. The team at St. Mike's is like a family, we still talk in group texts all the time."