Runyon’s blast for Alabama makes waves for former Carolina Forest star

For all the stories told about Marisa Runyon during her esteemed athletics career at Carolina Forest, one has sat idle.

During the spring of 2011, Runyon’s sophomore year, then-coach Sarah Minchew informed local media that Runyon had received a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama. The Crimson Tide was a consistent presence at the College World Series and ranked in the top five in the country when the offer came. Runyon verbally committed almost immediately.

Alabama, like most NCAA Division-I softball teams, had just 12 total scholarships. But coach Patrick Murphy took an unconventional route usually reserved for only the best; he offered Runyon a full ride instead of the typical partial financial aid package.

Coaches around South Carolina knew Runyon was good. But many had a hard time believing she was that good. Some openly questioned the legitimacy of the full scholarship offer on social media after the the initial reports were published.

Confirming the news from the school was impossible; NCAA institutions are barred from commenting on a student-athlete until a National Letter of Intent is signed and delivered. The Sun News, using what could be described as back channels in three different states, eventually received sufficient confirmation from multiple sources.

The full ride at one of the nation’s preeminent programs was as solid as it gets.

Flash forward to this year, and not coincidentally, Runyon has proved it was not only real, but deserved.

On Thursday, she’ll be a part of second-seeded Alabama’s ninth College World Series appearance in 18 seasons.

“It kind of hit me that I’m not the best player. We’re all equal,” Runyon said by phone this week in advance of the team’s CWS opener against Oklahoma [9:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2]. “There are some players who are better. It is in the back of my mind every once and a while. It’s crazy that I got a full ride and I’m still not starting.”

That doesn’t mean the Panthers’ product isn’t contributing. In 29 games this season, Runyon is batting .333 in 51 at-bats. She’s put together a freshman year that includes 16 RBIs, 10 runs scored and five home runs. In the last two weeks alone – a span that includes the Regionals and Super Regionals – she is a combined six-for-13 with a home run and three RBIs.

It’s that production that Murphy hoped for when he identified Runyon earlier than most of the coaches who saw Runyon tear up high school while playing for Carolina Forest.

It was there that Runyon was twice named the Toast of the Coast Softball Player of the Year and a three-time Class AAAA All-State selection. She also graduated as the school’s all-time second-leading scorer in basketball.

StIll, she initially had to sell herself to collegiate coaches just the same.

“I knew going into my travel ball team that college was my dream,” she said. “I wanted to play in the SEC. I didn’t realize how hard it would be. Now, I realize that all my hard work and emailing coaches, sending them my schedules, paid off.”

The efforts on and off the field translated to an opportunity to play in Tuscaloosa – and now in Oklahoma City.

“Especially when we’re at home and I step on that field, it’s amazing,” Runyon said. “I’m a part of something so much bigger than myself.

“Words can’t explain it. I know when we won that final game [against Nebraska in the Super Regionals] and we all celebrated together and dog-piled, it’s something you can’t explain unless you experience it.”