CHERRY — Cherry High School softball coach Darrell Bjerklie has had a lot of strong tradition of pitchers come through his program, from Shaina Novak to Sarah Sauter to Kacey Herring and Joely Roberts.
Those hurlers were so good, that they got the Tigers to the state tournament for eight-straight years.
That tradition continued this season with Lauren Staples
The Cherry freshman was instrumental in the Tigers making the Section 7A finals, and although they eventually lost to South Ridge, Staples did what she could to get the team to state.
On the season, Staples finished 18-2, with a 1.16 ERA and 188 strikeouts. She hit .407 at the plate during the regular season and .529 in the playoffs.
For that reason, Staples has been named the Mesabi Daily News, Hibbing Daily Tribune and Grand Rapids Herald Review Softball Player of the Year.
The scary part about it is that Staples still has room to improve.
“I expected her to continue to grow, and she did that this year,” Bjerklie said. “The results showed. She did enough for us to win, but we didn’t hit.”
The key to Staples’ success was learning how to pitch and not just throw.
“There’s a difference,” Bjerklie said. “When we scout hitters, we learn how to pitch to their weaknesses. If you’re pitching, that gives us a big advantage. We told her last year that she had to perfect herself to throw pitches to the best of her ability.
“That gave her a strategy to attack hitters. We also gave her another challenge, continue to grow. She’s not at that point where she needs to be yet.”
Bjerklie is looking for pitchers who can work the upper zone, the lower zone and in and out.
“When you get to that point, and we’ve been there before with Shaina and Sarah, that allowed us to attack hitters in many different ways.”
What’s so impressive about Staples is that she’s willing to put in the work to get to that point.
“It’s working on different pitches and improving everything,” Staples said. “It’s also about gaining speed. It’s doing a lot of pitching in the off-season, and doing some more weight training.
“I’m pushing to get better all of the time, knowing you have to work hard to get your shot.”
Staples begin her Cherry career as a second baseman, but she did get to pitch a little bit.
She pitched more as an eighth-grader, then this year, she shared pitching duties with Gena Mancini.
Staples likes the makeup of the pitching position.
“I’ve always been put in pressure situations,” Staples said. “I’ve always had to work hard and push through for my team. I want to continue to improve on my pitching, hitting and all-around play.
“As long as I can remember, I’ve always worked hard to get better.”
That’s the one characteristic Bjerklie likes about Staples.
“What has impressed me the most is pitching is a hard skill to learn,” Bjerklie said. “It takes a lot of commitment, but she’s also improved her hitting at the same time. She’s become one of the best hitters in the area.
“We play and practice to play the best we can. That’s something Lauren has grasped on to. She understands the level we need to be at. We coach for the last game of the year. That’s the level we expect our players to be at.
“We expect to be south.”
That didn’t happen this season, but Staples gave it her best shot.
She pitched three-straight games to get Cherry back into the finals. She threw a three-hitter against South Ridge in the title game, but the Tigers couldn’t score, falling 1-0.
Staples said she got a little tired during that three-game run, so she’s going to work on being more fit if the situation arises again.
“I’ll do whatever Darrell wants me to do,” Staples said. “I think I can get stronger. I want to be able to pitch multiple games in one day without losing speed and accuracy. I lost a little bit of speed as the day went on, which can be fixed with more weight training.”
Bjerklie has no doubt that Staples will put in the work to become better for the 2020 season.
“She has the mentality she needs to get stronger physically, which will improve her game even more,” Bjerklie said. “She’ll take her game to another level, which she does have within her. That’s her personal choice.
“She’ll get it done.”
Joining the Staples on the all-area team are her teammate Gena Mancini; Ava Warren and Anna Seitz of Virginia; Audrey Delich and Emma Westby of Eveleth-Gilbert; Jenna Merhar of Ely, Madisen Overbye of Mountain Iron-Buhl; Lindsey Rajala of Grand Rapids; Claire Vekich of Greenway; and Anna Elias of Hibbing.
Honorable mention selections were Jacie Clusiau of Hibbing; Hanna Sandberg of North Woods; and Morgan Dircks of Mountain Iron-Buhl.