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Fast lane to softball prosperity


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AFTER taking a pitch, Columbus North’s Denisa Brooks took a step out of the batter’s box and peered down at her head coach, Jerry Burton, in the third base coaching box.

Burton was flashing the customary signals, with a not so customary twist.

Brooks, who was hitting right-handed, got the signal to switch over to the left-handed side. During the same at-bat.

Naturally right-handed, Brooks might have more power as a right-handed hitter, but she was that one step closer to first base hitting from the left side.

“It mainly depends on whether the fielders are in or back,” said Brooks, a speedy senior who is North’s lead-off hitter. “If I am going to the left side, I am trying to slap it over them.”

Well aware of Brooks’ speed, Bloomington North’s third baseman and first baseman were as close as the pitcher to home plate.

Brooks executed perfectly, slapping the ball past the Bloomington North pitcher, which meant the poor shortstop had to make a play.

From the left side, Brooks has been timed in 2.9 seconds from home plate to first base. Consider if it takes a second and a half for the ball to get from the bat to the fielder. That gives the fielder 1.4 seconds to pick up the ball, make the throw and have it arrive at first before Brooks gets there.

Bloomington North’s shortstop had no chance.

Having Brooks at first with nobody out in extra innings produces an egads moment for most defenses. Bloomington North was no exception. Brooks stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and ended the game by scoring on another wild pitch.

“Speed makes everything click,” said Jennings County coach Kendall Wildey, who has his own speed demon in senior lead-off hitter Dani Kirchner. “Speed puts pressure on your defense. We work on things to try to shut that down, but if you are not ready or you slightly bobble the ball, they’re on. Then they are going to make something happen with that speed.

“When Dani gets on, we usually score. A single turns into a double (with a stolen base), and then she is in scoring position.”

Kirchner has been timed in 2.7 seconds to first base, and that was during the Indiana Top 100 Crossroad Series at Indiana University. “I had sprained my ankle a few days before that camp,” Kirchner said.

Indeed, she is lightning quick on a softball diamond. Brooks said the two played together for seven years on a travel team, the Stingers, and noted that Kirchner was the lead-off hitter while Brooks batted No. 2 in the lineup.

Hauser’s Craig Sims said both Brooks and Kirchner have “Division I” speed in terms of recruiting potential. And Sims should know speed because his player, and daughter, is the fastest in the area.

Jets sophomore Leslie Sims was timed last summer in the Top 100 camp at 2.6 seconds to first base.

“Speed kills in this game, period,” Craig Sims said. “When you have speed, you don’t need hits to score runs.”

Leslie Sims, who set a state record with 72 steals last season and who has 34 already this season, is so fast that Brown County coach Ron McDonald said he has thought about intentionally walking the player who comes to the plate before her.

“That’s crazy,” said Leslie Sims, who already has committed to Indiana State to play softball.

Craig Sims smiled when he heard McDonald’s comment. “It makes sense,” he said.

Wildey said coaches sometimes forget how powerful speed can be as a weapon in softball.

“They want their players to stand up there and swing away,” Wildey said. “That’s great, but fast-pitch softball is a game of speed. Speed kills. When you have that quickness, you can make so much happen. If you just swing away, eventually you come up against the kind of quality pitching where you hitting doesn’t match up. You have a better chance of trying to manufacture that run.”

Speed is so important that conventional hitting strategy is thrown to the curb.

Brooks, Kirchner and Leslie Sims all were naturally right-handed batters when they played for their youth teams.

But Brooks’ youth coach quickly turned her around to the other side of the plate.

“It was really weird at first,” said Brooks, who is taking a recruiting trip to Marian and who has received interest from Indiana Wesleyan and Indiana University Southeast. “It was very uncomfortable.”

Kirchner, who is headed to Trine University with a softball scholarship, said her father, Tom Kirchner, switched her to the left side of the plate after she broke her wrist at age 10.

“I felt very uncoordinated,” Kirchner said. “But I worked on it every night.

“And this year I tried to swing from the right side and it was very awkward.”

Being a softball coach, Craig Sims knew to turn his daughter into a left-handed hitter at any early age.

“I couldn’t even hold the bat,” Leslie Sims said. “It was like learning to walk again. But we worked on it every day.”

Wildey said he will try to turn speedy right-handed hitters into left-handed hitters even after they reach high school.

“It’s a whole lot easier than trying to teach them to hit home runs,” he said. “We’ve done it with several.”

Still, it all starts with natural speed.

“When I was 7 years old, I was playing up against the older girls,” Leslie Sims said. “I was still faster then them.”

Now as a high school student, Leslie Sims is faster than everyone. And when she gets on base, she can relax because she knows one thing is certain.

“Speed puts a lot of stress on other teams,” she said.

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