Southern Miss seniors Sarah Van Schaik and Samantha Papp have faced off against each other on the opposite side of the diamond for a big part of their softball careers. The two battled against each other at rival high schools, Oak Grove and Petal, and in college at Ole Miss and Southern Miss, but now both find themselves as college teammates at Southern Miss.
The two catchers’ paths to Southern Miss have uncanny similarities, countless stories that lead to an ironic full circle.
The duo’s rivalry goes as far as middle school playing against each other in travel ball leagues. After the eighth grade, however, Van Schaik moved to the coast and played at St. Patrick for her freshman and sophomore years.
While Van Schaik was at Petal for the eighth grade, she had to move due to her father’s military service that stationed him at Keesler Air Base. Both St. Patrick and Papp’s Oak Grove had developed into powerhouses between 2012 and 2013. St. Patrick finished 26-7 and 31-3 in those two seasons while Oak Grove finished 24-6 and 29-5.
It was the 2013 season the two would meet for the first time on Southern Miss’ softball field as the 2013 tornado hit Hattiesburg and damaged the Lady Warriors’ facility. Oak Grove was forced to play its games at Southern Miss with one of those games being against St. Patrick, which the Warriors won 6-1.
“I remember the game we played at USM when she was at St. Patrick,” Papp said. “I had just committed. It was fun because Oak Grove and St. Patrick was a bit of a rivalry. It was a big deal when we won that game.”
The following season, Van Schaik returned to Petal to finish her career after her dad retired.
“I was pretty intimidated by her in high school,” Papp said. “Everyone was. She was a pretty scary girl. Anytime you pitched anywhere near her it was going to get hit hard every time.”
In Van Schaik’s sophomore season of high school, she had hit 13 home runs, driven in 63 RBI and posted a .466 batting average, while in Papp’s sophomore season, she posted a .520 batting average, 51 RBI and six home runs. Both were well-respected catchers and hitters throughout their high school careers.
Former Petal teammate and current Southern Miss teammate, sophomore Jamie Powell, remembered watching the two play each other.
“The Oak Grove-Petal rivalry was a big thing, but it was more fun than when Sarah came (from St. Patrick) because she added a bat to the lineup,” Powell said. “Her and Papp both caught so it was kind of just like ‘who is going to throw out more people? Who is going to have the better game?’ that kind of thing. It was really fun because my sophomore year I committed to USM so Papp was my future teammate and Sarah was my current teammate. Both of them were very dominant catchers in 6A high school ball.”
The rivalry grew when Van Schaik stole home off Papp during the 2014 season.
“It was in high school I stole off Papp once,” Van Schaik said. “I just remember thinking my coach gave me the steal sign and I just thought ‘are you sure?’ because I’m not fast.”
Papp does not remember the play, but it is worth noting that Maxpreps.com has one passed ball scored on Papp against Petal.
Their rivalry extended into college as Papp committed to Southern Miss and Van Schaik committed to Ole Miss. Both ironically turned down offers to play for then-William Carey head coach Wendy Hogue, who is now Southern Miss’ head coach.
“[Papp] turned me down and committed to Southern Miss. I wanted to see the kid stay in Hattiesburg,” Hogue said. “Sarah came to some of our camps. I knew she could swing the bat and I offered her the moon at William Carey. I tried to get her there [but] she chose to go SEC and you can’t blame the kid for that.”
The irony becomes even more extensive for Van Schaik who remembered watching Southern Miss and Ole Miss play in Hattiesburg.
“I remember sitting in the stands one time and Southern Miss was playing Ole Miss and this was before I committed,” Van Schaik said. “I told my dad ‘I’m never going to either one of these schools.’ I was going to go to Georgia Southern. I wanted to go to somewhere far off. I didn’t want to stay in Hattiesburg. I just wanted something new.”
Papp and Van Schaik faced off again in Hattiesburg in 2016 as Ole Miss traveled down to play the Golden Eagles in a doubleheader. Van Schaik did not play in the first game, but she was entered into the lineup for the second game. It was then that Van Schaik recorded the first hit of her career.
“I wasn’t hitting,” Van Schaik said. “It was three weeks into the season and I hadn’t had a hit yet. I had the lowest batting average in the country. I looked it up. I was the only person with a .000. It was a base hit through the 3-4 hole. My next at-bat I hit a double off the wall.”
After two seasons at Ole Miss, Van Schaik decided to transfer back to Hattiesburg and play for the coach she had previously turned down back in high school.
“It was definitely exciting knowing that she was coming back to Hattiesburg,” Papp said. “I was excited about it because I knew that was a big addition to our team. Obviously coming off a year that had been pretty tough for us. I knew she would be a good leader and I knew she would be really good behind the plate or anywhere you put her.”
Multiple injuries kept Van Schaik from catching in the 2018 season and she moved to first base full-time, which worked out better for Southern Miss. In their final season, both have started in all 51 games with Papp at catcher and Van Schaik at first base.
“The fact that both of those girls ended up here after playing against each other for so long. They both ended up being senior leaders together,” Hogue said. “Playing the same position. As fate would have it, I thought this year Papp would catch a game, Sarah would catch a game and then [designate hit]. It’s crazy how things change.”
Southern Miss started the Conference USA Tournament in Birmingham on Wednesday.