By Gary R. Rasberry
ROCKFORD —ĘThere’s nothing like having a friend talking you up to a coach.
Parkway pitching standout Cassie Steinbrunner now knows that well.
Steinbrunner received plenty of promotion from a summer softball teammate — who also was a conference pitching rival. That in turn led to an offer to pitch for the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne next year.
Steinbrunner got the rush from not only first-year coach Lindsay Schott, but also USF freshman Sarah Schmitz, the former ace of the Fort Recovery staff and a summer teammate for Steinbrunner.
“I looked at a lot of Division II schools and I liked a lot of the D-II schools,” said Steinbrunner, who will major in special education. “When I heard that St. Francis (a member of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, or NAIA) had an interest in me, I wanted to see if it was for me. I just loved it. I love the atmosphere of the campus. I talked to some of the girls and the coach. That was the type of players I wanted to be with and I respect the coach. She was someone I would enjoy playing for.
“I knew Sarah on a personal basis. She was really excited when I told her that I was coming for a visit. When I told her I decided to play there, she told me I would love playing there.”
Schott, who last year was playing for the Cougars, is happy to have a pitcher like Steinbrunner for a team that went 19-23 last season.
“When I watched her films, I saw she was confident and self-assured,” said Schott. “She relied on herself on the mound. That’s what I was looking for. I need a leader on the mound who can do more than just pitch. I want someone mentally able to handle being hit and handling defense as well.”
Steinbrunner is coming off a strong 2003 season that saw the Panthers take home the district runner-up title, losing to eventual state runner-up St. Henry. Steinbrunner was the ace of the staff, going 1271/3 of the team’s 1641/3 innings last season, posting an 11-7 record with an earned run average of 0.83. Steinbrunner averaged over one strikeout per inning and had a WHIP (walks/hits per innings pitched) of 0.86 (84 hits, 25 walks). Batters facing her came back with just an overall batting average of .167 and she recorded 139 strikeouts.
“You know the MAC is one of the toughest leagues in the state. It’s a helpful factor going in and I know I wanted to play college softball. There’s a lot of teams around the area that have helped me. Crestview is one of the toughest teams in the state and playing them and going in a scoreless tie for 10 innings. It’s a definite factor.”
With the decision of college out of the way, Steinbrunner can focus fully on the goals of softball — the main one being a MAC championship for the second time in three seasons.
“The big goal is to win the MAC, but there are bigger goals,” said Steinbrunner. “Winning state has been a goal I’ve had since I was in kindergarten. It’s definitely nice to have that out of the way (college choice) and to focus on high school softball.”
Steinbrunner will also look to move up the list in the career record book. Steinbrunner needs 18 wins to tie Lori Oberlitner’s record of 43 career wins. Another 40 strikeouts will tie Oberlitner’s career mark of 280 and her 1.32 career ERA is third best with the top mark being 1.24 set by Heather Phillips.
“She’s been a mainstay since her sophomore year,” said Parkway coach Mark Esselstein. “She was so far advanced as a pitcher. It’s just so exciting when you think of the possibilities when you have a pitcher that’s going to be that strong. She’s going to get nothing but better. At Parkway she’s played volleyball, basketball and softball. Now that she’s going to have a chance to focus on just one sport, I think the sky’s the limit.”