His is unfair.... that's what you think the first time you see Michele Granger pitch in a softball game. The 5'11" University of California senior stands on the mound, scowling like St. Louis Cardinal great Bob Gibson in his surly prime. Her underhanded "riseball" has been clocked in the mid-70's, which, because the pitching rubber is just 43 feet from home plate, makes it comparable to a 96-mph major league fastball to opposing batters.
"She throws harder than any woman in the country—probably in the world," says Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea. "I wish to hell we had her."
In February, Granger struck out the 1,235th batter of her Cal career, breaking the NCAA record set in 1987 by Texas A&M's Shawn Andaya, who is now a speck in Granger's rearview mirror. (At week's end Granger was up to 1,472 K's.) She has won 109 games, including 24 no-hitters, of which five were perfect games. Though she is 20-5 and her ERA is 0.16 this season, Granger insists that she is over the hill. Seriously.
Granger figures she peaked somewhere around the eighth grade. "It all comes down to practice time," she says. "You get to college, there's this small matter of attending classes. You get married, and that's time-consuming."
Over the Christmas break of her sophomore year, Granger married John Poulos, then a law student at Arizona. You can't miss Poulos at Cal games. He's the guy in pinstripes, standing over the official scorer's shoulder, tallying his wife's strikeouts or offering, in a distinctive Klaxon voice, unsolicited—and ignored—advice to her.
Mike Granger tapped into his daughter's competitive streak when she was 10. Back then it seemed to him that women's softball pitchers stood rooted to the mound, deriving no power from their legs. He taught Michele how to get power out of her entire body. "She throws like a baseball pitcher—except underhanded," he says. When Mike felt she wasn't throwing hard enough, he would goad her, saying, "What's wrong, don't feel like trying today?"
"I am trying!"
"I don't even need a glove to catch you today," he would say. The scowl would appear. Michele would reach back for extra gas to make her father pay for the slight. "He knew how to push my buttons," she says.
At 14 Michele helped pitch the Santa Monica Raiders to an 18-and-under national championship. At 16 she had a perfect game and a no-hitter for Team USA at the world championships, in New Zealand. At 17 she led the U.S. to gold at the Pan Am Games, in Indianapolis.
She picked Cal for its "great education" and because she hoped to make the Bears a national-championship contender. So far she's one for two. Granger has a double major, in history and mass communications; Cal stands second in the Pac-10, behind UCLA.
Some of Cal's other standout athletes—point guard Jason Kidd and forward Lamond Murray of the men's basketball team and wide receiver Sean Dawkins of the football squad, all potential pros—want a shot at hitting against her. "They think they can take me deep," she says. "I told Jason I won't throw to him. He's worth too much now. He could sue."
When softball season is over, Granger and the boys will head up to Cal's Strawberry Field for the showdown. Guys, a couple of tips: 1) Choke way up on the bat handle, and 2) beware of the scowl.