Notre Dame's Burger, Menz named Southeast Missourian co-players of the year for softball
Thursday, February 2, 2012
Notre Dame third baseman Jessica Menz and shortstop Summer Burger didn't spend a lot of time between pitches talking strategy.
"The only time we would actually communicate was whenever there was a runner on second and there was a lefty up," said Burger, explaining they had to decide who would cover third base should the runner try to steal.
"Mainly it was me because every other time she would have the steal on a right-handed batter or a power lefty, but other than that we didn't have to communicate at all because we knew what we would do."
Menz and Burger, the Southeast Missourian co-players of the year, played side by side for years, meaning chit-chat during games was relaxed.
"We talk all the time," Menz said. "We have just goofy little things that we do."
Menz said Bulldogs pitcher Katie Bond was a regular focus.
"Like when she throws a bad pitch and she makes a face because she's mad it wasn't good," Menz said. "That's something I always laugh about and turn around and look at Summer."
Menz and Burger played a role in helping Bond overcome the occasional bad pitch in a season where she finished with 24-2 record and a 1.10 ERA.
"It's helps me out a lot," Bond said about her defense. "I feel able to throw different pitches and not worry about my defense behind me. I know they'll back me up.
"Like if I try to throw a riseball and it doesn't work and it drops, I know if they hit a ground ball, they'll field it."
Menz and Burger combined to make just 14 errors in two of the most unforgiving positions. They also combined to make an uncounted number of plays that took away would-be hits, whether it be Burger diving in the hole or Menz charging a bunt.
"It's a big confidence because [Bond] gets a lot of ground balls," catcher Savanna Ayers said. "Pretty much any time it's hit to that side of the field, you know it's going to be scooped up or something. You feel very comfortable and she feels more comfortable that she doesn't have to strike everyone out, that her defense is going to pick her up."
Menz and Burger, both seniors, also anchored the middle of Notre Dame's batting order. While the final numbers were similar, the stories behind them weren't.
Burger returned to her natural side and batted right-handed on the suggestion of coach Jeff Graviett after spending her first three years in high school hitting from the left side and utilizing her speed.
"I thought it was really cool because I always want to bat left-handed, but I never really had the opportunity or chance," Burger said. "One game in the summer going into my freshman year I batted left-handed, and I just stuck with it."
Burger hit .478 and slugged .822 from the right side this season. She had 44 RBIs, 22 doubles and three home runs to go along with 51 runs scored.
"No, not really," she said when asked if the transition was difficult. "It was a lot more natural, actually. I felt so much stronger and more confident right-handed."
The 5-foot-3 Burger relished the chance to surprise people by swinging away.
"It was fun being known as the power hitter because I was so little and nobody really expected it from me," Burger said.
Menz changed little before the season. She finished with an average of .516 and slugged .800. She totaled 44 RBIs, three home runs, 16 doubles and 30 runs.
"I go up there and I tell the pitcher in my head I'm going to hit the ball," Menz said. "I don't care where it's at. I'm going to hit your pitch. I challenge myself by trying to hit more of an inside pitch or more of an outside pitch, so I try to make myself better whatever I'm at bat."
Menz, Burger and their teammates found new ways to challenge throughout a 26-2 season that featured plenty of run-rule wins before coming to a shocking halt with a loss to De Soto in the Class 3 sectional round. It was the first time the Bulldogs did not qualify for the final four while both Burger and Menz were on the team.
"Coach was always just like, ‘We have to win every inning,'" Burger said. "So every inning was like a new start for us. We had to win that inning."
Menz noted the mind games but said they weren't necessary for her to focus.
"I just love softball, so I stay motivated altogether," she said.
"All of us have heart. I think it's mostly the heart that keeps everybody in it because if you're just on the team to fill a position, then you aren't going to do as good as if you want to be on the team and do your best."
Menz has signed to play at Three Rivers Community College, while Burger has signed her letter of intent to play at Southeast Missouri State. They played with many of their Notre Dame teammates years before they entered high school and every summer since they became Bulldogs.
"It's going to be so weird and really sad," Burger said about playing with new teammates. "Even with our coaches because they've been around for so long. But I mean, I guess it's just time to move on and make new memories."