By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Oh, the weather outside was frightful, but the fire inside Bedford North Lawrence softball is delightful.
With last year’s record-setting season as motivation, both for its tremendous success and its final heartbreak, the Stars opened official practice sessions for the 2019 campaign inside the warmth of BNL Fieldhouse on Monday afternoon. They’re ready to generate their own heat.
With seven seniors as the foundation, BNL is ready to build on last year’s 23-4 march to the first sectional title since 2000. The Stars have experienced pitchers in the circle, and power sticks at the plate, as they point toward a deeper state tournament run.
They lost significant pieces – six seniors (and five starters) from an offensive force that set school records for team batting average (.381), hits (300), home runs (20), RBIs (223) and stolen bases (74). They are ready to rumble again.
“When you first look at it, we lost a lot,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “But we have seven seniors this year, and some younger kids, and we’re looking at reloading. I know it’s a cliche, but we can continue where we left off, plug in some pieces.”
Softball revolves around the circle, so start there. Senior hurler Zoe Adams (16-3, 1.36 ERA) will anchor a rotation that will also include senior Leona Morron (2-1).
“Both of them, for three years, have pitched in some big games,” Gilbert said. “So we expect a lot out of them. There should not be any nerves from them.”
At the plate, BNL has sluggers, starting with sophomore sensation Sarah Stone, who hit .603 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs. Add in hard-hitting Cassie Rutledge (.337, 8 doubles, 20 RBIs), Adams (.355, 20 RBIs), Averie Jones (.406, 24 RBIs) and Kate Williams (.318, 18 RBIs), and the Stars have the potential to punish the opposition.
“We’re further along than we’ve ever been, with our strength,” Gilbert said. “We’re hitting really well in the cage, so we’re expecting some big numbers again.”
BNL’s question mark will be on defense. The Stars will be seeking a new catcher to replace veteran Hailey Miller (,398, 24 RBIs), a new shortstop for the departed Tristin Day (.347) and a defensive star in the outfield after fleet center fielder Katie Nicholson (.435, 40 runs, 20 steals) graduated. Stone and Rutledge will rotate between short and catcher to solidify the middle.
“This year, more than any year, we have kids that can play different positions,” Gilbert said. “Sarah is so smooth with the glove and she has a great arm. She can play anywhere we put her.”
“It’s not a challenge, I’ve played every position growing up,” Rutledge said. “As a whole, our team is strong. I think we can definitely make it past the regional.”
BNL fell to Castle 6-5 in the one-game regional, and one inning was the undoing. The Stars have not forgotten.
“The kids are already talking about a deep tournament run,” Gilbert said. “There is a bitter taste in our mouth, so our kids are anxious to show who we can be. With everyone coming back, there is an excitement that we can get back where we were.”
“I can’t wait to continue to grow and move past winning the sectional, growing as a team and continuing to get better,” Adams said. “The key is togetherness, It’s important to be one unit, that we stay bonded and close-knit. That will help us win more games.
“It’s leaving a legacy for these younger people to understand, sharing our experiences and showing how it’s done, how to overcome the obstacles and get better.”
BNL will face a lot of obstacles with a toughened schedule. The Stars will open on March 21 at Southridge, make a Spring Break trip to face Kentucky power Louisville Mercy and compete in a Lexington tournament, then meet Castle in an April doubleheader. Of course, the Hoosier Hills Conference (with rival Floyd Central) is always brutal.
The season will heat up, even if Day One was frosty.
“It’s hard to beleive we’re back at it,” Gilbert said. “It wasn’t exactly the weather we could have dreamed up. But we got a lot done. It was a good day.”