Softball: Two-Way StarZumbrota-Mazeppa senior Megan Nelson is the 2012 Republican Eagle All-Area Player of the Year.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
Zumbrota-Mazeppa senior Megan Nelson has built quite the reputation since she became a varsity player.
Nelson has been primarily known for her pitching prowess through the past three seasons, but she added to her capabilities this season with her bat.
Nelson, a left-handed leadoff hitter, hit .500 this season with 39 runs, eight home runs and 34 RBI. Nelson walked 12 times and struck out just five times.
“She’s always had a little power to the opposite way,” Cougars head coach and Megan’s father Kevin Nelson said. “She always hit the ball pretty well and part of that is her patience at the plate. She’s seeing the ball for so long so her swing is a little bit late and she’s hitting to left field. This year she pulled the ball. She hit probably half her home runs to dead center field.”
Nelson put more emphasis on her hitting entering the season and it paid off with her best offensive campaign of her career. Nelson expects to primarily pitch at the next level but can play in the field at third and second base.
Nelson concluded a prep career this spring that includes some eye-bulging numbers. Nelson finished her high school career with a 47-7 record, three all-state team honors and an ERA of 1.57 with 88 walks and 342 strikeouts.
But Nelson’s impact extends beyond the numbers. Nelson helped set the tone this season for the Cougars with her innate knowledge of the game.
“I think probably the biggest compliment I’ve heard from people and other coaches is my assistant coach, who has coached baseball close to 20 years and six years in softball, he said Megan is the smartest player he’s ever coached,” Kevin Nelson said. “I think that’s very true of what she is. What she lacks in size and maybe strength, she makes up in the smarts of the game.”
It’s her defense at the pitcher position that helps set her apart from others. Z-M didn’t have to worry as much about fielding bunts because of Nelson’s athleticism and speed.
At 5 foot, 6 inches tall, Nelson doesn’t present herself as a dominating figure, but she has played that way whether from the pitching circle or in the batter’s box. Nelson will continue playing softball next season at the University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse and expects to jump into a starting role as a freshman.
“I’m very excited to play,” Megan said. “I know it’s going to be a lot different and all through the lineup there’s going to be solid hitters so I really have to focus on my pitching and the movement of the ball because the hitters are going to be better.”
Nelson has a six-pitch arsenal that helped her go 14-2 this season with 82 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA. That arsenal includes two fastballs, a changeup, a drop ball, a rise ball and a curveball. But ask Nelson what her favorite pitch is and she goes with her two-seam fastball.
“I like to throw my two-seam fastball because it moves, it curves, it drops, it kind of does whatever comes off my hand,” Nelson said. “I’m not always sure what it’s going to do.”
Neither do hitters who have struggled to solve Nelson for the past three seasons.
A lot of Nelson’s instincts come from experience. Nelson plays softball all summer long and in the winter. That experience has allowed her to make not only the routine play, but the wise play in a given situation.
“Hopefully that’s what will help her in college, being able to make the quick decision and the right decision,” Kevin Nelson said. “So many times the game comes down to a quick decision.”
Nelson added power to her hitting this season with eight home runs. Z-M finished with 36 home runs as a team, a school record, and Nelson scored 39 runs — a staggering number considering how often she had to get on base in order score that many runs. Nelson finished with 36 hits and scored nearly two runs a game in 21 games.
“I got a lot of at-bats in and worked really hard on my hitting, just to get better,” Nelson said. “I improved a lot and really took every pitch in and looked to make sure it was a strike. I didn’t swing at not good pitches. It was fun to lead the team. I was just a really smart batter. With so many games throughout the summer I had a lot of at-bats and learned to not swing at dumb pitches because it’s not going to get you very far. It’s better to just take your time and wait for it and look at it all the way in to make sure.”
The Cougars, ranked in the state poll throughout the season, became victims of a first-round loss to Pine Island. The same school that the Z-M girls basketball team upset in the section tournament en route to the state tournament.
“That was hard that we lost,” Nelson said. “It’s better now. I’m still bummed, but I’m glad to be back out here playing.”