The ESPN cameras were capturing a performance for the ages – 24 straight innings of shutout ball.

Pitcher Raeanne Hanks was on a roll. She’d blanked the Spartans’ opponent in the first round of the SoCon Tournament, hosted by UNCG. She did the same to top-seed App State the next day. That’s 14 innings, zero runs.

Erica Navarette pitched the next game, a 12-2 victory over Samford.

In the title game against Georgia Southern, Coach Janelle Breneman gave the ball to Hanks again, who was confident. “I knew they were beatable.”

After seven innings of regulation, neither team had given up a run. Eighth, ninth, tenth. Still 0-0.

The home UNCG crowd grew louder with each defensive stop. In the bottom of the 11th, one fateful pitch. “A dropball inside. She SAW it.” And the Eagles’ Kourtny Thomas nailed a homer over the left field fence.

The Spartans finished with a 38-19 record, the most victories since 2003. Hanks was named the SoCon Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

Last year’s pitching stats were impressive for Hanks – 19 wins, 9 losses, 176 strikeouts, 2.34 ERA.

This year she wants better. “I want an ERA of one-point-something. Even if it’s 1.9.”

What gives her an edge? “Confidence and speed on pitches.”

“Fake it till you make it!” she advises. As a pitcher, you have to have that mentality.

“If I lose focus and confidence, I’m done,” Hanks explains. “That focus helps me in classes too. Softball helps me in that way, in life.”

She’s wanted to major in social work since high school in Washington state. For her, it’s about justice. Some are privileged and some are not. “I have a lot of privileges. I got this opportunity – to go to college and have a scholarship. I want to help people. And help kids make their goals.”

Her goal? “I’d like to work with family counseling and adolescent counseling in the high school setting,” she says. Hanks expects she will ultimately work toward her master’s.

Last season, she interned at Dudley High School two days a week – and some of her social work classes were in the evening. She had a lot to focus on – but her coaches worked with her schedule. Her fellow student interns at Dudley came out to support her during that final game.

This season looks promising for the Spartans. Five All-SoCon players return to the line-up: in addition to Hanks, catcher Lindsay Thomas, designated player/catcher Katelyn Bedwell, and outfielders Tatiana Alcala and Allison Geiner.

The team, which finished fourth last year in the regular season, is picked to finish second. Coach Breneman says, “Pre-season rankings do not carry a whole lot of weight to me, but I do know that we will be ready to compete.”

In the off-season, they had a team bonding event. Hanks was asked her favorite moment of the past year. “If we’d won (the SoCon), that would have been my favorite moment.” They came oh-so close.

Still, Hanks has that confidence. “We’re going to win the SoCon this year. That’s going to be my favorite moment.”

The Spartans start their season Feb. 7 on the road. Their first home game is against the ACC’s University of Virginia on Feb. 15. All games are free admission. See full schedule.

Story by Mike Harris, University Relations

Photography by Christopher English, University Relations