In the summer of 2010, Harbin arrived on the JSU campus as a thin 6-foot-0 freshman out of Hazel Green High, and McGinnis, the Gamecocks’ softball coach, was ready to help her new player get moved into her dorm room.
“She already had her room organized. It was the best designed dorm room I’d ever seen,” McGinnis said with a laugh. “She brought that same organization to the field.”
Harbin lived up to that early promise right away. Before that first season, she broke out as a potential bright star. She wound up making all-Ohio Valley Conference as a freshman and sophomore.
Now a junior, Harbin and her live right arm still anchor the JSU pitching staff.
She has performed so well that if she can maintain her current rate, she will own most of the school’s major career pitching records — even though she doesn’t like the distraction of thinking about statistics while the season is in progress.
“I don’t like checking those things or thinking about breaking records and individual awards,” She said. “It takes the whole team, and I try to focus on doing my part for the team.”
She already ranks second all-time in strikeouts (634), games started (88) and complete games (57). She is third in wins (55) and innings (550.1).
Harbin needs to strike out only two more batters to move into first place on the strikeout list, and she’ll get an opportunity to break that record Saturday when Jacksonville State (24-19, 9-7 OVC) travels to Eastern Illinois (28-11, 15-2).
“I remember she was shocked as a freshman that she was going to be a starter,” McGinnis said. “But she earned it by what she did on the field and off it.”
Probably Harbin’s best weapon on the mound is her mind-set. McGinnis stresses that her pitchers should have a short-term memory — forget what happened the last game (good or bad), the last inning, even the last batter.
And nobody follows that philosophy as well as Harbin. In fact, when she said she doesn’t know where she stands in all of those team categories, she means it.
“I know she’s getting close to some records, but she’s still business as usual,” McGinnis said.
Not everything is perfect for Harbin. She has had her setbacks. Last year, she missed the first month of the season because of a broken hand. She got hit by a batted ball on her pitching hand.
Also, she has had some games where she struggled to get batters out. She is 14-9 this season, suffering losses to larger schools such as Southern Mississippi, Virginia Tech, Arkansas and defending national champion Alabama.
But she whenever she has a not-so-good game, she always seems to follow with a good performance. For example, when she lost to Murray State, she followed up by pitching a four-hitter against Belmont. After the loss to Alabama, she beat Southeast Missouri State in an important OVC game.
“During game, even if you give up a home run, you can’t think about what you should’ve done,” Harbin said. “You’ve got to drop it and think about the next batter.
“If you have a bad game, you can’t think about it the next time you go out there. You have to take it one game at a time and one inning at a time.”
Even after that injury last season, she came back strong almost right away. In her first game back, she got a loss in a 4-2 defeat to Georgia State. But with JSU struggling at 4-14, Harbin beat Eastern Illinois twice in back-to-back days. With Harbin back, JSU managed to finish the year 28-28.
“It was hard not playing,” she said. “But I tried to do my part by cheering for everyone else. It didn’t take long for me to get back.”
McGinnis said she appreciates Harbin’s “mental toughness.” She said her teammates do, too.
“When Tiff was a freshman, one of her teammates, a senior, came up with a list of her all-time teammates,” McGinnis said. “She put Tiffany on there. She said that after all those years, she would take Tiffany Harbin as one of her two pitchers.”
Anniston Star Sports Editor Mark Edwards can be reached at 256-235-2370. Follow on Twitter @MarkSportsStar. Career record watch
How junior Tiffany Harbin stands among the major career pitching categories at Jacksonville State:
Category Rank Record
Strikeouts 634 2nd 635
Wins 55 3rd 64
Innings pitched 550.1 3rd 755.2
Games started 88 2nd 112
Complete games 57 2nd 94