MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Mahopac varsity girls softball pitcher Shannon Becker wasn’t happy with just perfect. The sophomore hurler wanted “perfect perfect.”
On May 8, in a home game, Becker took the mound against crosstown rival Carmel and proceeded to accomplish something that’s never been done before in New York State sports history. She pitched a perfect game by retiring every batter she faced—no runs, no hits, no errors. But it gets even better: She struck out all 21 Carmel batters in the 8-0 victory—perfect perfect. It was a feat that drew the interest of not only the local TV stations from New York City, but from ESPN as well, all of which reported on the astounding accomplishment last week.
But despite all that coverage, what some might not realize is that Becker’s success on the mound can be attributed to a close adherence to some important superstitions.
The luck of the softball team apparently rests largely on four diamond earrings Rhonda Becker, Shannon’s mom, holds in her right hand during the games.
“I hold her earrings for her every game,” Rhonda said. “It’s one of our superstitions.”
Shifting between a screaming fastball and a tricky off-speed pitch, Becker kept the Ram batters off balance all afternoon, leaving them frustrated on the long walk from home plate back to the dugout.
Earlier that day, Becker assembled her uniform as superstition demanded. She donned the same white headband that’s brought luck to other games, and she ate the traditional snack of an apple with peanut butter.
As Rhonda Becker’s palms grew sweatier as she grasped those earrings, and the Ks in the scorebook continued to accumulate, tension and excitement grew on the field. Though it was evident that the game was going very well, neither Mahopac coach Cristina Giansante or Becker acknowledged what was taking place. Doing so would violate another superstition.
By the middle of the first inning, Becker said she sensed that she might be on the verge of a special day.
“The whole game I was trying not to think about it,” she said. “Obviously, when it got late in the game, I was aware. In the last inning, I was like, ‘Wow, this could be real,’ and I had to refocus myself and calm myself down at a few points because I was very anxious and excited. I took deep breaths and just kept myself focused on the next batter instead of what had already happened and what could happen.”
Becker came close to pitching perfect games earlier in the season, Giansante said, including the April 17 game against Arlington in which she struck out 16 batters in five innings in a 21-0 win. So, both Becker and Giansante knew it was a possibility. However, the way it played out this time, Giansante said was “incredible.”
“For her to be able to throw 21 strikeouts is nearly impossible,” Giansante said. “It’s a very high-pressure situation.”
ESPN reported the last time such a game was pitched was two years ago in New Jersey, when Mia Faieta, then a sophomore at Cedar Grove High School, threw a perfect game striking out all 21 batters.
Local softball experts weighed in online as well.
"My strong suspicion, being actively involved in NYS HS softball since 1979, is that Shannon's accomplishment yesterday is a 'first,’" Bill Shaw, a New York State high School softball Hall of Famer tweeted on May 9.
As of May 11, Becker boasted an ERA of 0.29 with 283 strikeouts in just 120 innings. Opponents are hitting a scant .102 against her, according to MaxPreps. She’s also a force on offense, hitting an impressive .429.
Her teammates, coaches, and family agree that superstitions aside, it’s her talent, passion and commitment to the game and the chemistry she shares with teammates that drive her success. Those who know Becker said being in the spotlight won’t change her.
“She’s the most modest person you will ever meet,” Giansante said. “She was up for the Journal News Player of the Week every week except, maybe one. One week, Claire Fon from Lakeland had an amazing week and Shannon texted me and said, ‘Hey, if it’s OK, I’d like to vote for Claire this week for Player of the Week. I think she did better than me.’ That just shows the kind of person she is. She’s modest, she’s humble, she gives credit where credit is due. She’s a good kid.”
Becker, who also plays soccer and basketball, has always favored softball, according to her parents. Her two older siblings both graduated from Mahopac. Chris Becker, Class of ’10, played baseball and Kelly Becker, Class of ’13, played softball. Their mother played softball as well.
“[Shannon] had to go to everybody else’s games when she was little,” said her father, Bob Becker. “When she finally got to go to her own games when she was 5, she was so happy. I think she definitely was influenced by watching her brother and sister play, as well as her mom.”
Since those early games, her love of softball has only grown.
“Shannon plays winter, summer and fall ball,” Giansante said. “She takes pitching lessons and is very committed to softball. She flies down to Georgia to play games. She loves it and you can tell.”
Her parents said she’s already received interest from several colleges, both local and from some Power Five conference schools. They expect to be fielding several offers next fall.
“To say we’re proud is an understatement,” Rhonda Becker said.
Dominick Depole contributed to this article.