Top pitcher steps through portal to bolster Lady Vols

Friday, June 24, 2022, Vol. 46, No. 25
By Rhiannon Potkey

Payton Gottshall is Bowling Green’s career leader in strikeouts (768) and ranks second in wins (58). She has thrown three of the program’s four perfect games.

-- Tennessee Athletics/Utsports.Com

Payton Gottshall froze when she saw the 865 area code flash on her phone. She had a feeling it was Tennessee softball coach Karen Weekly calling.

Following another strong season in the circle at Bowling Green, Gottshall entered the transfer portal June 6. The two-time first-team All-MAC selection was inundated with interest from coaches from nearly 100 schools within the first few days.

Gottshall always held Tennessee in high regard and needed time to compose herself before answering Weekly’s call.

“I didn’t know how to talk at the time. She just straight up called me, and everything went out the window,” she said. “I was so in shock that I didn’t answer it in time. She ended up leaving me a message and texting me to give her a call when I get the chance. I called her back a little later.”

Gottshall arranged an official visit to Knoxville June 13. On her drive back home to Ohio the following day, she announced her decision to transfer to Tennessee. She will have two years of eligibility to play for the Lady Vols.

“It just felt like such a great family environment and they felt like my own family,” Gottshall said. “We had a cookout-style dinner at Coach Weekly’s house with burgers and everything and that is stuff my family does almost every weekend and it just felt like home. They are so personable and I just absolutely loved them and the campus and Knoxville.”

Gottshall is coming off a record-setting sophomore season at Bowling Green. The right-hander finished 27-13 with a 1.63 ERA and school-record 374 strikeouts in 253.1 innings. Her 27 wins tied the school record.

In just two full seasons and a Covid-shortened 2020 season, Gottshall became Bowling Green’s career leader in strikeouts (768) and ranks second in wins (58). She threw three of the program’s four perfect games.

Tennessee faced Gottshall during her true freshman season in 2020. She gave up six hits and nine runs, including six earned, while striking out 13 and walking five in the 9-3 loss. It left an impression.

“I saw how good her stuff was, so as soon as she popped up in the portal I knew I wanted to reach out to her,” Weekly said. “Just through this process and talking with people who know her well and talking to her, you see what a competitor she is. I think one of the phrases that came up in conversation with a former coach was ‘killer instinct on the mound.’”

Facing major conference teams in tournaments and midweek games gave Gottshall the motivation to pursue the opportunity more often.

“I have been dying to play at that level and play against that competition,” she said. “The MAC was great and obviously there are a lot of good teams, but moving up to the SEC you are going to be challenged every single weekend. It’s going to be a grind and that is something that I live for because my family is more blue collar and we work for everything.”

Gottshall started pitching because she wanted to be like her brother, Josh, who is eight years older. She first picked up a glove and joined him in the backyard by age 4.

“I always told him I was going to grow up and be better than him,” Gottshall said. “We are a very competitive family and any time we would do things together it would keep going until the other one would finally give in or something would break.”

Josh has become her biggest fan, and has tried to watch as many of her games as possible from his home in New Hampshire. Having her playing in the SEC will make the TV options much easier.

“He is so excited for me and so happy for me,” she said. “He acts like he is my manager a little bit. He is already coming up with sayings and different things for me at Tennessee.”

Gottshall wasn’t highly recruited out of high school. She didn’t have any offers from Power Five programs and didn’t get a chance to play in any of the major showcase events in front of college scouts.

“I never had anything handed to me. I always had the odds stacked against me and I have always had to prove myself,” she said. “A lot of people doubted me growing up saying I was not going to pitch D1 or not pitch in college. That has always been a motivation for me. Just wait and see and watch what I can do on that big stage. I am going to fight for everything and work to make it where people are going to notice me and people are going to see me and I am going to be one of the best.”

She carries that same mindset to Tennessee. She knows people will wonder if she can handle the rigors of the SEC on a full-time basis after playing at a mid-major.

In a small way, Gottshall’s recruiting process has come full circle. She initially committed to UT-Martin in high school, but reopened her recruitment once the head coach retired.

Gottshall finally landed at a program in the UT system, only this one is at the flagship university with a much more advanced pedigree.

She has already endeared herself to Tennessee fans just by her first name alone. Although she’s not named in honor of the famous quarterback like many kids were after Peyton Manning’s reign in Knoxville, Gottshall knows the significance.

“It’s just a coincidence,” she said. “But we met Coach (Ralph) Weekly and he said, ‘Welp, everybody better watch out, there is a new Payton in town.’”