Golden arm

HOPE — Hauser senior shortstop Leslie Sims has been crowned as the best softball player in the area for a couple of years running, and for good reason — she’s spent four years rewriting a good chunk of the state’s record book.

But in terms of her overall value to the Jets over the past two seasons, Leslie might not be the most important player in her own family.

Having a dominant pitcher means everything in high school softball, and Leslie’s younger sister, sophomore Tessa Sims, has been just that.

Hauser was 14-12 two years ago, winning a sectional and dropping a narrow 2-1 regional game to Rising Sun. A solid team, to be sure. But with the younger Sims in the pitching circle last spring, the Jets soared to new heights, going 26-4 and winning the Class A state championship.

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This year, they’re 21-0, the lone remaining baseball or softball team in Indiana still sporting a perfect record, heading into tonight’s game against South Decatur in the opening round of the Rising Sun Sectional.

“Realistically, just being honest, we won a state championship because of Tessa,” Hauser coach Craig Sims said. “We’re 21-0 because of Tessa. It’s just pretty much that simple. We’ve got a good team, but you take her off the team, we’re an average team. That’s just facts.”

The numbers tend to back that up. In 81 innings of work this season, Tessa Sims has allowed just 11 runs — only seven of them earned (0.60 ERA). She has struck out 121 batters while walking five.

That’s even better than she fared as a freshman in 2015, when she gave up just 32 runs (16 earned) in 144 innings while striking out 230 and walking 19.

Having an elite hurler, Craig Sims says, makes all the difference in the world.

“You can have a great team with below-average pitching,” he said, “and you’re probably going to struggle. But you could have a below-average team with great pitching, and you’re probably going to be successful.”

If you add a great pitcher to an already strong team, as Hauser has, it usually translates into a lot of victories. The Jets have won 30 in a row dating back to last May, and they’re looking to add seven more to that streak this winter.

A decade ago, Tessa Sims didn’t seem like the most likely candidate to pitch a team to a state title. During her first year of T-ball, she says, she wasn’t the most focused player on the field.

“I was that little girl that played in the outfield with the flowers and played with my hair,” she recalled, “and everybody was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is going to be a journey if she’s going to continue to play.’”

Continue she did, however — and through countless hours of work with her father and sister, as well as with former Columbus North assistant Eddie Loweth, Tessa turned herself into a force.

Loweth said that there was a point when Tessa was about nine or 10 years old where he asked her whether she really wanted to pitch — and from that point on, he noted, she seemed determined to excel.

“If you challenged her, she was pretty strong-willed about proving everybody wrong,” Loweth said. “So that takes her a long way.”

By the time she was 12, Tessa had hit her stride — and the rest is Hauser history.

Along the way, she also helped convince her older sister to give up any thoughts of playing catcher.

“One time, I caught for her,” Leslie Sims said, “and whenever I caught the ball, my glove and the ball went to the backstop. So that was the last time I caught.”

Instead, Leslie has settled in behind her sister at shortstop, and she’s had to face far fewer chances in the field over the past two seasons thanks to Tessa’s pitching arm.

The same is true for just about every other player on the Jets’ roster.

“It’s really nice to have a pitcher that can get half, or more than half, of your outs so that your defense isn’t doing much work,” Leslie Sims noted.

There’s still work left to be done if Hauser is to defend its state crown — sectional host Rising Sun is ranked third in Class A, and defending 2A champion North Central has moved down a class, providing another major obstacle.

With an ace up their sleeve, however, the Jets aren’t about to back down to anybody.

Survive and advance

A look ahead at this week’s area softball sectionals:

Class 4A Shelbyville Sectional

Tuesday

Shelbyville vs. Bloomington North, 6 p.m.

Columbus East vs. East Central, 8 p.m.

Thursday

Tuesday’s winners, 6 p.m.

Bloomington South vs. Columbus North, 8 p.m.

Friday

Championship, 7 p.m.

Favorite: Shelbyville

Dark horse: Bloomington North

Class 4A Seymour Sectional

Monday

Seymour vs. Floyd Central, 5 p.m.

Jeffersonville vs. Jennings County, 7 p.m.

Tuesday

Monday’s winners, 5 p.m.

New Albany vs. Bedford North Lawrence, 7 p.m.

Thursday

Championship, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Floyd Central

Dark horse: Jennings County

Class 3A West Vigo Sectional

Monday

Northview vs. Owen Valley, 5:30 p.m.

Edgewood vs. Brown County, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday

Monday’s winners, 5:30 p.m.

West Vigo vs. Sullivan, 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday

Championship, 6 p.m.

Favorite: West Vigo

Dark horse: Edgewood

Class A Rising Sun Sectional

Monday

Jac-Cen-Del vs. Oldenburg Academy, 5:30 p.m.

South Decatur vs. Hauser, 7:30 p.m.

Tuesday

Monday’s winners, 5:30 p.m.

Rising Sun vs. Shawe Memorial, 7:30 p.m.

Thursday

Championship, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Hauser

Dark horse: Rising Sun

Class A Edinburgh Sectional

Monday

Waldron vs. Edinburgh, 5 p.m.

Tuesday

Morristown vs. Southwestern (Shelby), 5 p.m.

Greenwood Christian vs. Monday’s winner, 7 p.m.

Wednesday

Championship, 6 p.m.

Favorite: Edinburgh

Dark horse: Southwestern (Shelby)

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.