Jennifer Martinez, now a professor at Evergreen State College, teaches her students about biology. But 10 years ago, while competing in softball at St. Joseph’s College (Long Island), she was schooling the opposition.
Arguably the best pitcher in Division III history, her name peppers the NCAA records book from her career as a Golden Eagle from 2006 to 2008. In addition, she holds nearly every school and Skyline Conference pitching record.
“All I know is that every once in a while, they would stop the game and my coach would come out to get the ball because I had set some kind of record,” Martinez says. “I was just focused on helping my team win, so I never had any idea of my individual records.”
Her team did win, as Martinez led the Golden Eagles to Skyline Conference championships and NCAA tournament appearances in 2006 and 2008, two of the three in program history. The 2006 conference title provided Martinez’s fondest collegiate softball memory.
“No one expected us to win it,” she says. “Manhattanville College had been the conference power, and we were able to knock them off to win the title.”
Perhaps her most impressive individual accomplishment is her career strikeout ratio: She averaged 15-plus strikeouts per seven innings in her collegiate career. The next-closest pitcher is University of Texas at Austin legend and Team USA Olympic hero Cat Osterman, who finished with a 14.34 ratio. Only one other NCAA pitcher has finished with a ratio higher than 12.5 strikeouts per seven innings.
“She was just a phenomenal all-around player and definitely someone who was once-in-a-lifetime,” said Al Sciangula, Martinez’s collegiate head coach. “In my more than 20 years as a coach, she is by far the best player I have ever seen.”
Additionally, only four times in NCAA history has a pitcher in any division struck out 21 batters in a seven-inning game. Martinez did it twice.
One reason Martinez doesn’t hold every NCAA pitching career record is because she started her career at Stony Brook University, where she was a biology major who planned to pursue medical school. However, she was injured during the fall of her freshman year and never played for the Seawolves. After deciding she would rather teach, she transferred.
At St. Joseph’s, she excelled in the batter’s box, as well. As a senior in 2008, she became only the second player in any division to win the NCAA statistical titles in earned run average (0.46) and batting average (.609) in the same season, a feat that has been matched only once since.
“She was easily the hardest-working player I have ever coached,” Sciangula says. “I have always said that good players practice until they get it right, and great players practice until they don’t get it wrong. Jen was one of the great ones who just had an incredible work ethic and would practice until she couldn’t get it wrong.”
The work ethic carried over into the classroom, as well. Martinez was a two-time College Sports Information Directors of America Academic All-American, graduating with a 3.84 GPA in biology and secondary education. She also has a doctorate in molecular and cellular biology from Stony Brook.
“I definitely got my work ethic from my parents,” Martinez says. “They both worked their whole lives and still were so dedicated to the family.”