Brooke Nelson’s breakout freshman season with the Bonney Lake High softball team shocked the state.
She hit .696 with five home runs at the plate, and on the mound piled up 169 strikeouts over 109 innings pitched while tallying a measly 0.79 earned run average.
All in all, Nelson dominated.
It was a surprise to the former 3A South Puget Sound League, to the community at large and the prep softball world in the state of Washington.
Her season shook up the landscape, and with Bonney Lake now entering the new 3A Pierce County League, Nelson and the Panthers are looking for more of the same.
But this season it’s not necessarily about Nelson repeating her mind-boggling freshman campaign — it’s more about Bonney Lake advancing deeper in the playoffs.
“We’re just focused on going further than we did last year, and trying to take it one game at a time,” Nelson said, deftly avoiding any questions about her freshman season. “It’s not about one player on Bonney Lake, but every girl coming together to accomplish the goal we have set this year. I’m blessed to have the best teammates around me.”
Translation: It takes a team to tango in the PCL.
“That’s really the mindset we try to instill in our players from our training programs in January, we try to get our players comfortable with each other and to trust one another,” Bonney Lake coach Andrew Sage said.
That trust has paid off in spades for Nelson and Bonney Lake, as the Panthers made the postseason last year despite being one of the younger teams in the league, with four freshmen starting — even at key positions such as pitcher (Nelson) and behind the plate (Hailee Hagins).
“We’re still young this year, but I think that helps us more because we can get over the (West Central District III) playoff loss and learn from that experience,” said senior Kira Mitchell. “I think we’ve grown from that (2-1 loss to Columbia River).”
Although the Panthers were eliminated in the WCD playoffs, falling short of the 3A state playoff bracket, they learned some hard lessons.
Despite the spotlight often shining on Nelson, Sage’s philosophy has always centered around a team mindset. No matter how good a player, it has always been about the team.
Not even Ohio State all-time great Taylor Watkins was above the team when she played for Bonney Lake.
“It’s a good feeling when you know your team trusts you to be there for them,” said Hagins, who spent the offseason increasing her arm strength from the behind the dish to reduce opposing teams’ stolen base percentage. “Everything we do is for each other. I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
From cheering on the Panthers’ C-team as they played their first game on the varsity field last week to simply goofing off in between workouts with assistant coach Kate Zender, it’s nothing but fun and games when you are with friends.
Nelson may be the queen of the circle when it comes to the softball world, but at Bonney Lake, she’s just another Panther.
“The best thing for me is celebrating with my team after a win knowing that we won the game together,” Nelson said.
Kevin Manning: @herald_kmanning