‘She has bruises all over her body:’ CT college softball player sets national record for getting hit by pitches

WILLIMANTIC – Julia SanGiovanni grew up playing goalie for a boys ice hockey team, so she doesn’t particularly mind things flying at a high rate of speed directly at her.

Which may explain how SanGiovanni, a graduate student on Eastern Connecticut’s softball team from East Haven, broke the NCAA Division III hit by pitch career record on April 17 in a doubleheader against the University of Hartford. That day, SanGiovanni, Eastern’s third baseman, got hit for a record 81st time, forcing in the first of seven runs in the seventh inning of the second game.

The next weekend, SanGiovanni got hit three more times in a doubleheader against Castleton (Vt.).

“Everybody was like, ‘Give it up, you already broke the record,’” SanGiovanni said, laughing.

“She showed up to her recruiting trip with a black eye,” Eastern softball coach Diana Pepin said. “I was like, ‘Are you OK?’ It was from hockey.

“I didn’t know she liked to get hit by pitches.”

Back then, SanGiovanni didn’t, either. In high school softball, opposing pitchers always told her she crowded the plate, but she doesn’t remember getting hit a lot, or even at all.

“Honestly, I never knew,” said SanGiovanni, whose East Haven team won the Class L state title her freshman year of high school. “It was just where I was comfortable. Then I got to college and the pitchers like to pitch inside a little more than they do in high school. They’re afraid to hit you (in high school).

“Some people argue that I try to get hit and I lean in. I will say maybe (sometimes) I leaned in a little bit. Hey, if it’s coming at me, I’m going to take it. It’s a free base. It’s a runner on base. I don’t move. I was a hockey goalie. I’m not afraid to get hit.”

SanGiovanni’s father was also a hockey goalie. She played with boys hockey teams until high school, then played with a girls team.

At Eastern, she was hit by a pitch for the first time in Kissimmee, Fla., her fourth game as a freshman, in the bottom of the second inning against Westminster College. She has been hit by pitches 12 times this season. Her season high was 23 times in 2022, when Eastern went to the Division III World Series, finishing fifth (after the Warriors went in 2019, her freshman year, and finished third).

“If it meant winning a game, she’ll take a pitch,” Pepin said. “She’d rather take a pitch than hit the long ball. I don’t know why. She has bruises all over her body.”

At first, Pepin – who was hit by pitches a few times during her playing career and did not like it – was not happy but then she became resigned to the fact that this was simply how SanGiovanni rolled.

“Coach says (she should move back) all the time – ‘You’re my No. 4 batter, I can’t have you getting hit,’” SanGiovanni said. “I was like, ‘Coach, it’s coming at me, I’m taking that free base.’

“Now it’s like a mindset; I can’t move. It’s the weirdest thing. I tell everybody, if the ball is coming at me, I can’t move, my brain won’t let me do it.”

SanGiovanni wears a custom-made heavy-duty arm guard on her left arm and a leg protector on her left leg. The worst hit came in 2021 during the regional tournament play. The pitch somehow got under her left arm and drilled her in the right bicep. She went down.

“It numbed my whole hand and my hand got stuck like (a claw) because it pinched the nerves,” she said. “Usually it hits the elbow and it hits the guard and I’m fine.

“They all crowded around me, and I was like, ‘I can’t move my hand.’ That was the scariest one. All the other ones were just bruises.”

She got up, took the base and kept flexing her hand and eventually the feeling came back, and she kept playing.

She mostly gets hit in the leg, arm or rib. She’s never been hit in the head.

SanGiovanni is not simply a player out to break obscure records (she didn’t even know there was a HBP record when she arrived at Eastern). She was an All-American at third base in 2022 and the Little East Conference Player of the Year and has been an All-LEC player every year since her freshman year in 2019. She has played third base and shortstop at Eastern, where she has played 203 games, the most in Eastern history. She is the cleanup hitter for the Warriors (18-13-1) with a batting average of .341, seven doubles and three home runs. The day she broke the hit by pitch national record, she also recorded her 200th hit and is currently second all-time in hits (209) at Eastern. As of Wednesday, she needed two RBI to break the school’s career RBI record (157). She holds the single season record for doubles (19, 2022).

Eastern, which has a doubleheader Thursday and a doubleheader Saturday to end the regular season, will play in the Little East Conference tournament May 8. The Warriors will need to win it to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

SanGiovanni, 24, took the two extra COVID years granted by the NCAA and is now finishing up her masters degree in sports management. She works at Rentschler Field and would like to coach after graduation.

“She helps a lot with being a coach on the field,” Pepin said. “The younger kids love her. Last year at regionals we lost and (sophomore) Emma Marelli starts crying, “I’m going to miss the seniors.” Then she found out Julia was coming back, and she was happy.

“She’s a great kid. She’ll do anything for the team. She is fearless. She’s done great things for us.”