How Payton Gottshall's heavy metal intro song set tone for Tennessee softball super regional run
What was once an unusual anthem has turned into a welcome break from the country or pop songs typically played over the loudspeakers at Sherri Parker Lee Stadium.
At least once a weekend during Tennessee softball's home series, the unmistakable sound of metal guitar riffs pierce through the chatter of Lady Vols fans. The low, hoarse growl of Motörhead's Lemmy yelling, "time to play the gaaaame!" followed by a maniacal laugh is a stark contrast to the ambiance of the softball diamond on the banks of the Tennessee river.
When the song "The Game" plays, everyone knows who's stepping into the circle.
It's Payton Gottshall time.
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“I love the vibes it gives," Gottshall said. "I don't want to say I go psycho, but just the mindset that I have to be in – that just helps me get pumped up to be able to do what I do for the team."
Gottshall, a transfer pitcher from Bowling Green State, has a persona in the circle to match her intro song, and she's a staple of Tennessee's deep pitching rotation fueling its historic success. Gottshall is a significant reason why the Lady Vols made it to the NCAA Super Regional for the first time since 2019 and will host Texas starting Friday. Her energy doesn't just motivate her – it sets the tone for the whole team.
Why Payton Gottshall's walkup song stuck
Gottshall wasn't the one who found her intro song.
Her former teammates pointed out the song that became an integral part of her game day routine the summer before her sophomore year at BGSU.
"They were like, 'This like fits your personality so well,' " said Gottshall, who agreed. "It just gets me super focused and just ready to attack anybody, knowing that my stuff’s going to get anybody out."
Gottshall always listens to the heavy metal track – which was WWE legend Triple H's intro song – right before she gets to the field to get in the right headspace. When she hears the intro play again as she walks into the circle, it's the final spark needed to ignite Gottshall's fire.
When her Tennessee teammates first heard the song, they were caught off guard. They asked Gottshall what she was playing, somewhat mystified by the song choice. But ever since their first listen and seeing the pitching that follows, everybody has gotten into it.
"Now everybody loves it and they’ll all scream, 'It's time to play the game,' " Gottshall said, laughing.
It's not just a song for Gottshall, though. It fuels the mindset that helps her feel loose and confident in the circle.
"I'm intense, but I'm also messing around with people at the same time," Gottshall said. "Figuring that out over that summer just kind of helped me throughout college, because I really found myself in that way."
'No situation that scares her'
Karen Weekly knew Gottshall had "the stuff" when she recruited her out of the transfer portal last summer.
The Tennessee coach saw it up close and personal during Gottshall's freshman season. The Lady Vols played BGSU in a nonconference matchup, and Gottshall struck out 13 of them.
When she transferred from the MAC to arguably the best softball conference in the nation, Gottshall heard the doubters. But she's used to it. People told her she wouldn't make it to college and that she wouldn't do anything significant in her career.
"Honestly, I love when people say stuff like that," Gottshall said. "It just makes me work even harder, because I know I'm going to prove you wrong. I mean, everything that I've done leading up to this, I proved every single person wrong."
Gottshall (15-1) carries a 1.52 ERA, which matches Tennessee's overall ERA that ranks fourth in the nation. She has recorded 124 strikeouts in 96⅔ innings and has only walked 20 batters. Through 335 at-bats, her opponents hold a .152 batting average.
She stepped up in big moments this season, like coming in as a reliever for every game of the Florida sweep. Or when she entered the SEC Tournament semifinal when Tennessee trailed Alabama 2-0 to with the bases loaded. Gottshall loves the pressure – it focuses her even more.
"There's no situation that scares her," Weekly said after Tennessee beat Alabama 7-6. "She's just like, 'Yeah, let's go, give me the ball.' And I think that's what allows her to play free, to inspire her teammates and just to get better she goes."
How Payton Gottshall's electric personality impacts her team
Gottshall isn't afraid to let her emotions show, and she doesn't care what people think of her celebrations or reactions.
She'll scream and smack her glove before pointing it at catcher Giulia Koutsoyanopulos and giving her a nod after a strikeout. She'll even laugh sometimes after she doesn't get a strike call on a good pitch, which is partially to help her shrug it off and not be bothered by the call.
"If I think it's a good pitch, I'm gonna laugh about it," Gottshall said. "It's not like I'm doing anything towards umpires personally ... usually I’ll throw the same pitch again, hit the same spot and then they'll call it. So I'm just like, 'OK, there we go. We finally got it.' "
Her electric personality isn't just to motivate herself. It's a signal to her team that she's in the zone, a sign they can have confidence in her. Gottshall sees it as another way to contribute, since she's only on the field for half the game.
"I don't wanna say (pitchers) don't have much to do," Gottshall said. "But compared to everything that they have to do ... that's the least that I can do for them."