TEUTOPOLIS — Only moments before the first game of the season at Sullivan, Teutopolis freshman softball player Kadi Borries was told she'd be starting.
Lady Shoes coach Rich Niebrugge also informed her she'd be pitching and if that wasn't enough, she'd take leadoff duties as well.
"I was kind of nervous," Borries said. "It was my first high school game. When we had our first at-bat, I had two strikes, and I was like, 'I can't strike out.'"
With a stomach full of butterflies and an 0-2 count working against her, Borries overcame the nerves, and the early-season snow, to line a triple off the right-field fence. In one smooth swing, she had arrived.
"For me, I was a little nervous about it too," Niebrugge said. "I'd started a freshman before, but never leadoff in the first game of the year. You don't see a lot of offense in that snow, and she just smokes the ball off the fence. Then, boy, she just lit it up and flew around those bases and slid into third. It was a great way to start the season."
From there, Borries was right at home in the leadoff spot, hitting .478 with a school-record 14 home runs. On the mound, she racked up a resume of 13-3 with 167 strikeouts in 114.1 innings and a 1.65 ERA.The freshman played like anything but, and helped Teutopolis compile a 20-6 record and berth in the Class 2A Rend Lake Super-Sectional.
Her record-breaking season comes with the distinction of being named the Effingham Daily News Player of the Year.
"I was kind of surprised," Borries said of finding out about the honor, "but I felt really excited. I worked really hard for softball. I was just hoping to not be nervous and play with the older girls."
Niebrugge knew early on that Borries would likely carve out a spot somewhere on the varsity lineup, having seen her at summer camps and on last year's state runner-up junior high team for Teutopolis.
Though just a freshman, he thought she was ready for a big-time challenge.
"I knew that Kadi had a lot of talent," he said. "Even though she's a freshman, she still had a lot of experience, she's played a lot of ball. I did not think she would be too overwhelmed by the concept of being a freshman playing varsity."
Now he just needed to get the rest of his team on board, and it didn't take long. Before Borries connected on her triple at Sullivan, her pitching warmup during the first practice stopped her coach, and her team, cold.
If there was any lingering doubt that she should be given a chance to play a significant role for the Lady Shoes, it was tossed aside in one rocket of a pitch to classmate and sister Anni, who was in her familiar spot, sunk down in a catcher's stance.
"The first practice, our very first, I had her get loose," Niebrugge explained. "I said, 'Let's have you throw to Anni.' The first pitch kind of sailed way outside on her, there was no wow factor. But the second pitch, she tossed a rise ball, and it had a lot of pop on it. Anni framed the ball so perfectly, it was 'Pop-Pop'. I even called a timeout."
The moment was quick, over in an instant, but it had a longstanding impression on the freshman.
"That was good," Borries said. "It gave me a lot of confidence that I could go out and do what I could do."
Given a nod of approval by her coach and teammates, the freshman was unleashed against the opposition, bad news for a string of unprepared foes that hadn't yet seen her in varsity action.
On top of her .478 average, Borries was walked five times and hit by one pitch, contributing to an on-base percentage of .510. More often than not, the heart of the Teutopolis lineup had a chance to bring Borries home in the first inning for an early lead.
"We try to build the lineup that way," Niebrugge said. "We lead things off with Kadi, there's a tremendous amount of talent there, a great way to start the game. She hits a single, double or triple, the defense is already on their heels."
The bottom half of the lineup allowed Borries to return the favor, leading to a team-high 37 RBIs.
Leadoff batters aren't supposed to pace the team in bringing runners to home plate, but the Lady Shoes were that talented from top to bottom, and Borries was that skilled to take advantage of any opportunity.
"When I'm in the batter's box, I think that I have to get a hit to help my team," Borries said. "So I can't strike out looking, I don't want the ump to call me out. If I do strike out, I'm going down swinging."
That aggressive nature at the plate helped generate 28 extra-base hits. Borries ripped nine doubles, five triples, and an astonishing 14 home runs.
"I didn't even know if I could get home runs this season," Borries said. "When I got my first one, it was an awesome feeling that I did that for our team. Every time one went out, it was the same feeling."
Borries felt that rush of excitement a lot this season. Twelve times she sent souvenir blasts over the outfield fence, and two more times she used her speed to round all three bases and score inside-the-park home runs.
"Since I've been coaching, we haven't had anybody even close to that," said Niebrugge, who just finished his 11th season at the helm. "The team had seven (homers) last year, the year before we had two. We just don't see a lot of balls hit over our fence."
Borries is not like most players, no matter what age. Her 1.156 slugging percentage meant that on average, she was reaching at least first every time she stepped in the batter's box. Coaches oftentimes couldn't offer much help to their pitchers when facing the freshman phenom, other than a wishful, "Good Luck."
Yet for all her prowess at the plate, Borries also excelled on the mound. Her 13-3 record was tops on the team, and Borries struck out more than one batter per inning. What's more, in 114.1 innings of action, the righty allowed 27 earned runs. She's not a flamethrower, but instead works a variety of pitches to frustrate those that try to muster a hit.
"I don't really throw a lot of fastballs," Borries said. "I usually start with either a screwball or a curveball just to get them swinging. If I'm up in the count, then I throw a waste pitch to see if they will go after that."
On the rare occasion that she's struggling to find control, there's always a comforting face behind the plate to help find her mark.
"What made Kadi such a good pitcher is having Anni back there," Niebrugge said. "Having that team there."
The sisters have formed a formidable battery for the better part of their softball careers, and are able to feed off one another, much to the displeasure of opponents.
"She's caught me all my life," Borries said. "She's a really good catcher. In practice we work together a lot and in the games it was pretty much like in practice, just throw right to her. It worked out pretty good."
If they're not at an official Teutopolis team practice, chances are the two are still staying busy. As members of Premier Fastpitch's 16U squad this summer, the sisters will travel as far as California for tournaments, as well as playing a number of games noticeably closer to home.
"It just helps me keep my skills up and keep the love for the game," Borries said. "I'm not going to back down from summer to high school, it's going to be the same work ethic."That's scary news for future opponents. After a freshman season in which she rewrote the record books, Borries still has three years left to leave a lasting impact.
"She is a tremendous talent," Niebrugge said. "If she continues to work this way, to continue to work how she's worked, who knows what the limit is for her. I get so excited thinking about it, it's a bright future."
An EDN Player of the Year award is nice, but Borries isn't satisfied. Teutopolis fell to Nashville, the third-place winners in Class 2A, during the round of eight to fall one win short of heading to the state finals in Peoria. For the freshman, that's not enough."We're just going to keep working hard at practice and in the offseason to prepare," Borries said of her team's eyes on another postseason run. "I'm hoping to just keep getting better, not back off and make it to state. Bring home some hardware."
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at email@example.com