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SOFTBALL: Stars come full circle in 2016

BNL pitcher Zoe Adams went the distance while scattering 9 hits and striking out only 1 batter.

BNL pitcher Zoe Adams finished with a 9-5 record and 2.54 ERA in 2016.

Freshman pitchers, young

team found solid ground

during run to 17-11 record

By Justin Sokeland

When the 2016 season started, Bedford North Lawrence coach Brad Gilbert was clueless, and apprehensive, about the potential and the final destination of a young team with an inexperienced pitching staff.

See, pitching is paramount in the game. It’s ultimately an arms race. And BNL was going to throw freshmen to the wolves. That circle out there in the middle of the diamond wasn’t going to provide any protection. It’s not a safety zone.

The kids held their own. And so did the Stars, finishing 17-11 after falling to No.4 Floyd Central in the Class 4-A sectional final at Seymour. That solid finish, combined with the fact BNL will return the bulk of its starting lineup, promises a strong future for a program that won its last sectional championship in 2000.

“When you step back and analyze some things, in the preseason we had no idea what to expect,” Gilbert said. “The number one thing we were worried about was pitching, and the ERA (2.82) was actually lower than it was last year. That shows that all of our pitchers did a good job of throwing strikes.

Jenna Dufresne had three hits, including two doubles.

Jenna Dufresne was named to the All-HHC First Team and hit /379 with 29 runs scored.

“I was pleased with the 17 wins, but as a coach you start getting greedy (after an 11-4 start). It was easy to forget how young we were. You’re thinking 20 wins is a possibility, and we lost a couple of games we shouldn’t have. So we were right there to have an unbelievable season. We have to be proud of what the kids did this year.”

Consider that BNL lost starting shortstop Tristin Day for the bulk of the regular season with a broken bone in her right hand, and the Stars certainly achieved more than projected. They had an explosive offense (7.2 runs per game) and scored double-digit runs 11 times. They had a team batting average of .345 – 32 points higher than the previous season.

The BNL staff now tracks quality at-bats (hard contact, swinging at good pitches, going deep in the count) and is putting an emphasis on that even more than averages or power stats.

“We had a lot of games where we scored a lot of runs,” Gilbert said. “The one thing we have to improve on is being more consistent. We have to do a better job of making adjustments at the plate.”

BNL catcher Hailey Miller prepares to fire to first base after recording a force out at home plate.

BNL catcher Hailey Miller led the Stars offensively with 20 RBIs.

BNL loses four seniors, including All-HHC first baseman (and academic All-State) Morgan Lambrecht, who hit .368 with 19 RBIs, and third baseman Marissa Watson (.380, 19 RBIs), plus reserves Olivia Sanders and Kara Jones.

“They are great kids, great leaders,” Gilbert said. “They meant a lot to the program.”

Offensively, the returning nucleus will feature All-HHC center fielder Jenna Dufrense (.379, 29 runs scored), catcher Hailey Miller (.364, 2 home runs, a team-high 20 RBIs), second baseman Madison Pittman (.284) and outfielders Kate Nicholson (.420) and Cassie Rutledge (.389, 18 RBIs).

But the focus will come full circle back to the circle. That’s where it starts and ends. Zoe Adams (9-5, 2.54) and Leona Morron (6-5, 3.14) had a combined strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3-to-1, yet they could still mature into the dominant hurlers (with some added velocity) that separate the great teams from the good.

Tristin Day gobbles up a ground ball at shortstop. Day scored the winning run in the 8th inning after getting her first hit since March 29.

Shortstop Tristin Day missed the bulk of the regular season after suffering a broken bone in her right hand.

“Everyone thinks hitters can eventually catch up to speed, but when you’re talking about one game in the tournament, that’s something difficult to catch up to in only three at-bats,” Gilbert said. “So we’ve challenged our pitchers to work on things to get to the next level. We have to find that strikeout pitch.”

BNL pitchers averaged 1.4 strikeouts per inning. Pushing that total closer to 2.0 would limit the exposure of a defense that allowed 46 unearned runs and committed 66 errors. Day’s injury forced some emergency changes and forced people out of position.

If the defense stabilizes, if the pitching strengthens, if the offense matures, the Stars will be a force in 2017.

“We hope they can improve as much this coming offseason as they did last year,” Gilbert said. “If we can keep improving, we’ll have a team that’s very exciting to watch.”