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Softball: A complete two-way player

Avery Steffen of Zumbrota-Mazeppa delivers a pitch during a Section 1AA game against Dover-Eyota on May 23. Martin Schlegel / RiverTown Multimedia

Losing 1-0 in a hard-fought sub-section game to Rochester Lourdes, Zumbrota-Mazeppa head softball coach Kevin Nelson stuck with his young starter in a must-win game for the Cougars. Less than an hour removed from an extremely disappointing loss for the Cougars, sophomore Avery Steffen was back in the circle.

"She's a gamer," Nelson said of Steffen after the loss to Lourdes on May 23. "She was not happy after the game. I could see that."

In the game following the loss to the Lourdes, Steffen allowed a leadoff triple to Dover-Eyota leadoff batter Tarrin Stephens. Two batters later, Amanda Franke drove Stephens in. Steffen limited the first-inning damage to just one run while recording three strikeouts.

Steffen held Dover-Eyota to two runs in a 5-2 win for the Cougars. The team was sub-section runner up and the season was still alive. Steffen, who pitched a complete-game, struck out 10 batters. In total for the day, she struck out 17 batters in 14 innings.

"I just rolled with my fastball through the year," Steffen, the Republican Eagle Softball Player of the Year, said of her best pitch. "I added speed to my fastball. It's a fastball that sometimes can look like a riseball."

As the Cougar's No. 1 pitcher, Steffen totaled 203 strikeouts in 136 innings and won 17 games. Steffen also was the team's leadoff hitter all season. She hit .443 with five home runs and scored 30 runs.

"I think I give the team confidence leading off," Steffen said. "I know that if I have a good at-bat it will give confidence to everyone."

Her pitching workload increased drastically from her freshman year in which she hardly pitched at all. Knowing she'd be a bigger part of the team's success, Steffen had some reservations at first, but knew she was capable of handling it.

"I knew I could do it," Steffen said. "It was exciting and nerve-wracking (knowing I'd be the No. 1 starter)."

Guiding her through the year was senior catcher Natalye Quam. Steffen said Quam would notice during pregame warmups which pitches were working or weren't working almost immediately.

"I love pitching to Natalye," Steffen said. "I think we did pretty well together. She takes notice of all my pitches. Having Natalye as my catcher, I really appreciate her work. I'm going to miss having her behind the plate."

Quam routinely came up to Steffen heading back into the dugout with words of encouragement; usually recalling a pitch during the half inning that worked or how the batters were reacting.

In addition to Quam's leadership behind the plate, Steffen said playing for the Southeast Minnesota Flyers has helped her in both pitching and hitting.

"It makes my hitting much better seeing faster pitching," Steffen said.

The Flyers is a club team with a roster consisting of area players from Chatfield, St. Charles, Dover-Eyota, etc. The traveling softball team plays its games during the summer months.

For Steffen, the Flyers are what she wants her school team to feel like.

"Everyone is a good player and they all get along," she said.

Steffen added that she feels like she's more of a quiet leader; one who leads with her play on the field. With her increased role on the team this past season, Steffen wants to focus more on relationships with her teammates next year.

"I want to keep everything positive," Steffen said. "My goal is to become a better leader and friend on the field."

Likely to lead the Cougars in the circle next season, Steffen is a position to be one of the team's best performing leaders.