Mariah Lopez has experienced exhilaration on the softball diamond, winning three Premier Girls Fastpitch National Championships, and has also suffered devastation in her young career after her junior season at Saugus High was cut short by injury.
They have all been defining moments during a memorable journey for one of the nation's top recruits, one who verbally committed to attend the University of Oklahoma as a freshman before throwing her first pitch for the Centurions.
During the past four years competing for both Saugus and the Orange County Batbusters, Lopez has developed physically and emotionally, breaking school records and thriving for one of the country's elite travel ball teams.
"Mariah has always been a great pitcher for Saugus, but through her four years I have seen growth in her maturity," Saugus Head Coach Julie Archer said. "This year is a testament to that because she is coming off of an injury from last season and her mental toughness and strength has shown in her performance."
Patience and perseverance were rewarded when Lopez signed her national letter of intent in November to play for the Sooners, following Hart graduate Jessica Shults and former Canyon standout Brittney Williams, both members of Oklahoma's 2013 national championship team.
"Finally getting to sign my NLI was a dream come true. I had waited for that moment for a very long time," Lopez said. "Being able to talk to my coaches about my upcoming freshman year and their plans for me made it all real."
Lopez was faced with a different reality last season when she suffered a severely-strained ligament in her right pitching elbow. After an initial diagnosis revealed a possible tear, which would have required surgery, it was determined an extended amount of rest and rehabilitation was all she needed before resuming competition.
The injury resulted in Saugus missing the CIF Southern Section Division I playoffs one year after capturing a Foothill League title.
"Not knowing what my future held for some time was really scary and it made me appreciate every single opportunity I get to stand in the circle. I learned that nothing in this game is promised, so I have to take it one day at a time," Lopez said. "Not being able to contribute last year was heartbreaking for me ... I will say though that I was able to watch the game from a different perspective and it really made me appreciate it even more. Being out for so long made me hungrier than ever to get back to where I was and I also learned to be a better leader."
Returning to the diamond with a renewed passion, Lopez helped the Batbusters to another PGF 18-under national title in July, finishing the summer 15-0 with 104 strikeouts and a 0.62 earned-run average.
Lopez, the Centurions' career strikeout leader with more than 650, celebrated her senior year with a fourth 10-win season to help Saugus return to the playoffs.
"This season she is stronger than ever, comfortable and confident on the mound," Archer said. "She has always been a leader on the field, but this year she has expanded that role and is a big part of our team chemistry."
With a strong support system and tireless work ethic, including regular trips to train in Anaheim, Lopez has developed a greater perspective on the sport.
"I feel like all of these aspects have made me a better pitcher, as well as the amazingly-instrumental people I've had around me pushing me to be better every day," Lopez said. "My Batbuster coaches have made me the player I am today. I am truly indebted to them for teaching me to work toward excellence always and to demand that of myself every day. My Saugus coaches have taught me to keep fighting no matter what adversity I face. They were there with me, supporting me through a very difficult time and they never stopped believing in me."
Seeking its first playoff victory since 2012, Saugus has the ultimate goal of winning the program's first division title since 1996. And Lopez is relishing every moment she has on the diamond with sophomore sister Makayla, junior catcher Cassidy Fitzgerald and fellow seniors Lindsay Clare, Ty Cueva and Cayla Kessinger.
"This team is very special because all four of us seniors and Cassidy have played together since we were 6 years old. We are sisters and know this is the last time we will ever be on the same field together," Lopez said. "As for me personally, it's the last year I will be on the field with my sister and I would love to create a memory that will last a lifetime. I want to be the best that I can for this team because they are doing the same for me."