(AARON EISENHAUER ~email@example.com)
Notre Dame softball coach Jeff Graviett will be without his top offensive player this fall, junior leadoff hitter Paris Burger, who tore her ACL and meniscus while playing basketball July 28 and will spend the next four months recovering.
"When I did it, I was so upset because I knew that there was something seriously wrong and I knew I wasn't going to be able to play," said Burger, who underwent surgery last Monday and must exercise the knee for 10 minutes of every hour she is awake. "At least I still get to go to all the games. I got my uniform and I can wear it to all the games."
Burger, who was an all-state left fielder as a sophomore, is one of four key players that Graviett must replace from last year's squad that won the district title for the third consecutive year but was defeated in the state tournament. Another significant loss for the Bulldogs is Burger's cousin, Kristain Burger, who graduated last spring after setting almost every offensive record in Notre Dame softball history.
Paris Burger, a slap hitter, will be missed, Graviett said, because her tremendous speed puts pressure on opposing defenses and gives the Bulldogs the ability to manufacture runs. Graviett said he will likely move junior center fielder Erika Reinagel into the leadoff spot. Reinagel, also a slap hitter, was an all-state player two years ago as a freshman, when she posted a batting average around .480 and an on-base percentage close to .600.
"She had a good season last year, but not quite as good as the year before," Graviett said. "Her freshman year was a little bit better statistical-wise, but she still had a tremendous year for us. She's the same type of player as Paris, just not quite as fast and strong as Paris, but the same type of player."
Reinagel's batting average dipped about 40 points during 2006 while her on-base percentage dropped to near .500.
Graviett hopes junior Alexis Ralls can account for some of the power that was lost when Kristain Burger graduated. He said he thinks she could be the mid-range hitter that provides needed power to drive in runs.
Notre Dame will also need to replace its two top pitchers -- Beth Schnurbusch, a two-time all-state pitcher, and Miranda Schlosser. Both players graduated.
Sophomore Lauren Reinagel will be the new ace. She spent most of last year pitching for the Bulldogs' junior varsity team, posting a 12-1 record, but did pitch in two varsity games. She has nice velocity with her drop ball while mixing in a rise ball and changeup, Graviett said. Sophomore Danielle Dock will also get the opportunity to pitch. Dock, who also threw for the junior varsity team last fall, has a hard drop ball and slightly more velocity than Reinagel, but she needs to continue to develop more pitches, Graviett said.
"She had a really good summer throwing the ball, so we're expecting some big things out of her," Graviett said. "Lauren is probably the front-runner. Danielle is doing a pretty good job right now, but she's just not quite there yet. She's in a developmental phase right now -- just getting her to where her talent can take her."
Reinagel is starting to feel some pressure as her debut as the Bulldogs' top pitcher quickly approaches. Graviett will hand her the ball Wednesday in Notre Dame's season opener against Central. She'll lean on the advice Schnurbusch gave her last year, aiding her development.
"I am really nervous, but as long as I pitch strikes, my defense will back me up," Reinagel said. "I am just excited to be playing with my team because I've been playing with these girls since I was really, really little. I think it's going to be a fun year."
The other top high school softball program in the area, Kelly, will also have to replace its two pitchers. Kelly went to the final four last year behind Kalie Hughes, who graduated, and Casey Kern.
Kern can't pitch this fall after having surgery to repair a tear in her labrum, right next to her rotator cuff. She will play first base instead, but said it will be tough not pitching.
"Pitching has always been a passion of mine," said Kern, who played first base last season when Hughes pitched. "My cousins were all pitchers. I always wanted to be a pitcher. But we'll do a good job there."
Juniors Jessica Riley and Heather Beggs, who both played junior varsity last season, will replace Kern and Hughes.
"[Riley] has really stepped up and improved," Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge said. "She played for a couple travel teams over the summertime, so that really stepped up her game. She got to see a lot of innings. So she's stepping on the mound pretty strong. She played with a lot of older girls this summer so that makes the transition a lot easier."
Ratledge said she hopes having two pitchers with no varsity experience will not hinder her team as the season progresses.
"Both of those girls have played a lot of ball all their life," she said. "They're definitely ready for the next level."