Notre Dame softball team features Sanders as a blazing leadoff hitter

Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Notre Dame left fielder Brianne Sanders corrals a ball during Saturday's Class 3 state quarterfinal game at Lutheran South High School. (Laura Simon)

Wake up, work out, go to school and softball practice, stay after practice for extra hitting, go home, do homework and go to bed.

That's Notre Dame junior Brianne Sanders' routine four days a week.

"She's one of the hardest working players I've ever played with," Bulldogs teammate Savanna Ayers said. "She rarely gets in a slump, but even if she gets down a little bit, she's always right back up in the cage trying to figure out her swing and whatever she needs to do to help out the team."

Dennis Sanders admires his daughter's dedication to softball.

"That's something I guess I'm probably most proud of," he said. "I know a lot of parents have to push their kids into doing the extra work and practices. I've never had to that with V [Brianne]. She's been doing this ever since she's been little. Her whole eighth-grade year her and I worked out together three times a week lifting weights. She was getting ready for high school. She said, 'Dad, when I get in high school, I want to make varsity and stand out.'"

Notre Dame junior Brianne Sanders leads the Bulldogs with a .530 batting average, with 46 singles among her 53 hits. (Kristin Eberts)

Sanders is the all-state left fielder and leadoff hitter for Notre Dame, which will make its fourth consecutive trip to the Class 3 final four this weekend. The Bulldogs will face Nevada in Friday's 10 a.m. semifinal at the Killian Softball Complex in Springfield, Mo.

"She just didn't want to make varsity but wanted to play," Dennis Sanders said. "I come home sometimes and she's out back with a tee and a ball hitting by herself. She wants it."

Sanders said her father has been the most supportive of her passion for softball, always finding a way to help her.

"He's always told me to work hard and always encourages me to keep working," Brianne Sanders said. "If I have a bad game, he's always telling me I'll be fine and what I need to work on. He's been great."

The fleet-footed junior said her routine includes working out before school at CrossFit in Jackson and staying after practice to hit off a tee in the cages. And the work doesn't just start in season for Sanders.

Notre Dame's Summer Burger, right, hugs Brianne Sanders, left, after Sanders made the game-winning catch in left field during a Class 3 Sectional game against Festus on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2010, in Festus, Mo. Notre Dame won 3-1. (Kristin Eberts)

"In the summer, I'm always out there hitting off the tees," she said. "I'll go in the backyard and I have a tee at home and practice bunts or aim at something on the wall for my slaps."

The hard work has paid off for Sanders. She was all-state as a sophomore and is putting up more impressive numbers this season.

Sanders leads the team in walks, runs, hits, singles, batting average, on-base percentage and stolen bases.

She boasts a .530 average with 46 of her 53 hits being singles. The singles result from the constant bunting and slap-hitting Sanders performs at the top of the Bulldogs' lineup.

"Very few kids stay after and work and hit and spend their time off the tee," Notre Dame coach Jeff Graviett said. "The footwork that goes along with slapping, she does. She's really come a long way in the last few years with the slapping."

Notre Dame's Brianne Sanders leads the team with 29 stolen bases, which is three short of the school record.

Graviett added she has become more than just a singles hitter in the past few years, providing a bit more power.

"She's taken her game from a bunter and she's got a couple doubles and triples," Graviett said. "Adding that little bit of pop off there makes her more dangerous."

Graviett still knows one of Sanders' most dangerous weapons is her speed, which creates nightmares for opposing defenses.

"It's tough when you know you can't mess up at all," Graviett said. "I've seen it a thousand times. You see that fielder's eyes get real big when they pick that ball up and see how far she's down the line. They rush things. It gets them out of what they're normally doing. We laugh [because] you can almost count the bounces. You get three bounces and she's on first base. She's tough to defend. With that speed, it makes it nearly impossible."

Sanders decided over the summer to try to use her speed to generate opportunities for more than the Bulldogs' softball team. She wanted to break the school's single-season stolen base record this year and decided to see if she could raise money in her quest.

"My aunt was a burn victim and we were talking about it one day at lunch with my family and I just kind of thought to myself that everyone overlooks this stuff," she said. "They always give to other causes, but nobody really thinks about burn victims. My goal is to break the record in stealing bases this year and I thought it was just a really good idea to have someone donate for every stolen base, and I can give to that cause."

Sanders heads into the state semifinals with 29 stolen bases, three swipes short of the record.

"I'm not really thinking about it too much," Sanders said. "If it comes, it comes."

She's more concerned with getting on base and helping create havoc for the opposition.

"Obviously my main goal is to win a state championship," she said. "Take it one game at a time, but for me I just need to get on base, that's my main focus."

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