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Blond Ambition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pitchers Jamie Gillies of Saugus and Sara Griffin of Simi Valley grew up about 30 miles apart, but the distance didn’t seem to matter. As much as Gillies heard about Griffin, two years her senior, they might as well have been neighbors.

Griffin’s success at Simi Valley High, where she had a record of 63-6 in her career and led the Pioneers to a Southern Section Division I title in 1993, was not exactly a well-kept secret.

“I remember seeing her name in the [newspaper] a lot,” Gillies said.

She still does.

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Griffin and Gillies are teammates on Michigan’s fifth-ranked softball team, which plays at 8:30 this morning against No. 15 Cal State Northridge (5-1) in the San Diego State tournament in Poway.

The similarities between Griffin and Gillies are many. Both are tall blonds with sparkling personalities who have always assumed full responsibility when they lost--which hasn’t been very often.

Gillies, a freshman, and Griffin, a junior, traveled in the same Southern California amateur softball circles for several years. Both pitched to catcher Jeanine Giordano, who played with Gillies at Saugus and Griffin with the Valencia Choppers, a summer travel-ball team.

But before Gillies signed with Michigan in November 1995, they had never met.

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Now, hardly a day goes by that they don’t discuss the finer points of pitching.

“If I see a pitch that [Gillies is] giving away, I’ll let her know,” Griffin said. “It’s our duty as upperclassmen to help her out as much as we can.”

Gillies couldn’t ask for a more qualified mentor. Griffin, a 5-foot-9 right-hander, is among the most successful softball players in Michigan history.

Her resume resembles that of a stellar four-year starter, yet she’s only been around two seasons. She is Michigan’s only two-time All-American. She has won the Big Ten player of the year award in consecutive seasons and 56 of 70 decisions, giving her the best winning percentage in school history.

Griffin, who plays third base when she’s not pitching, also owns school records with 40 doubles and a .420 batting average in her career.

In 17 seasons before Griffin’s arrival, Michigan never advanced to the College World Series. With her, the Wolverines have gone twice.

Griffin has raised the bar at Michigan and Gillies, who is No. 3 in a three-pitcher rotation, is hoping to follow in her footsteps.

“Everything that she has, I want it too,” said Gillies, a 5-10 right-hander who led Saugus to the Southern Section Division II title last year. “If I want it bad enough I have to work hard like she did.”

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Gillies, who was 74-11 in four years for Saugus, has kept her ears and eyes open since arriving in Ann Arbor in August.

Griffin has obliged with all kinds of information--from where to throw certain pitches in relation to where the umpire is standing, to how to keep warm when it’s minus-7 degrees outside.

Considering the abilities of both, some might assume there is a competitive wedge between them.

Actually, the opposite is true. Griffin and Gillies have joined forces with the other five Californians on the team--including sophomore Cathy Davie of Westlake and junior Lisa Kelley of Newhall--to rib a group they good-naturedly call the “Michiganders,"--teammates who are Michigan natives and think the team is being overpopulated with Californians.

“They always rip on us,” Gillies said.

For example, she has been told by Michiganders that she has an accent and that she is too upbeat to be in Michigan.

Then again, with Griffin as her teammate, she has good reason to be happy.


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