Softball: Nikki Steinbach stellar in leading Andrean to semistate
BY JOHN O’MALLEY Post-Tribune correspondent May 31, 2012 11:10PM
Andrean's Nicole Steinbach pitches during the softball regional championship game against Griffith on Tuesday, May 29, 2012, in Griffith. | Scott R. Brandush~Sun-Times Media
MERRILLVILLE — Incredible and unbelievable are two good words to describe Andrean pitcher Nikki Steinbach.
The 59ers’ ace has been nothing short of brilliant in the circle again this season.
While leading her team to the Class 3A state championship game a year ago, Steinbach was amazing.
Even though the 59ers lost 8-0 to Indianapolis Roncalli, Steinbach finished the season 22-4, with a 0.56 ERA, and 298 strikeouts. She tossed a remarkable 13 shutouts, including four during the postseason.
Even though it seems unbelievable, Steinbach’s numbers so far this season are even more incredible.
As the 59ers (25-4) prepare for Saturday’s Class 3A Twin Lakes Semistate game against Yorktown (10 a.m.), Steinbach is 22-2 with a 0.37 ERA. She’s recorded 15 shutouts, tossed four no-hitters and has pitched two perfect games.
She nearly pitched a third perfect game in a 1-0 win over Kankakee Valley in the sectional championship contest, but settled for a no-hitter.
In 172 innings this spring, Steinbach has allowed only nine earned runs, while registering 275 strikeouts and only 21 walks.
She also has a .306 batting average, has four homers and four doubles among her 26 hits, while driving in 21 runs.
Given her gaudy numbers, Steinbach was asked how she’s been better this season than she was last year.
“I feel like I did better last year,’’ she said. “I don’t know why.
It’s hard to explain. I just feel like I should be doing better than I am right now — especially my pitching.’’
If that’s the case, then how?
“I don’t know, I just think I could do better than I am,’’ she said.
First-year Andrean coach, Brooke-Baker Runyon, said Steinbach is always looking for ways to improve.
“I think what makes her continue to get better is her work ethic — she’s always striving to get better at something, whether it’s the physical, or the mental part of the game,’’ Baker-Runyon said. “I think it would be hard to find a pitcher in high school that’s as smart, or knows as much about the game as she does.’’
Steinbach said a lot of her drive comes from her dad, Fred, a 59ers’ assistant coach.
“My dad doesn’t like settling for things,’’ she said. “He likes to make sure things are perfect. If something’s not perfect, he tries to make it perfect.’’
For example, Baker-Runyon gave her team Thursday off. Instead of taking it easy, though, Steinbach scheduled a hitting lesson at the University of Notre Dame with Irish assistant coach, Kris Ganeff.
“You can get a lot of swings in, there are a lot of drills, it’s a good hour of hitting,’’ said Steinbach, again striving to improve.
The Ball State University-bound star has simply been the area’s best pitcher. She’s definitely among the best all-around players you’ll find anywhere, too.
Steinbach credits Baker-Runyon, for helping her elevate her game.
“Coach Brooke has helped me understand more about how I look at a game,’’ Steinbach said. “I’m more confident in my coach this year than I was last year. That’s because I learn from her. She’s already gone through what I’m going through. She’s given me a lot more confidence in myself.
“I listen to what she tells me. I want to be the best I can be. I want to help her, help my teammates, and help myself. I think I take a lot of pressure off our defense when I’m confident, and they know I’m confident.’’
When she loaded the bases with none out in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s regional against Griffith, Steinbach calmly, and in assassin-like fashion, struck out the side, thwarting any momentum by the Panthers.
“It’s almost unbelievable to me she can make adjustments when she needs to make them, and is that smart,’’ Baker-Runyon said. “Her maturity and her drive to get better is very hard to find. She’s pitched well all year, but she wants to be even better. I think she’s hungry for that state championship game.’’
“My only goal right now is to beat Yorktown,’’ she said. “That’s the only thing I’m thinking about.’’