By RYAN HERMAN
VALE –– With the conclusion of the 2014 season for all Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference softball teams, West Lincoln left zero doubt which one was the best.
After sweeping the regular season and conference tournament titles, the Rebels cleaned house in the league’s individual awards, which were released to the media on Wednesday. Freshman catcher Kylee Leonhardt was named the league’s offensive player of the year, sophomore pitcher Cassidy Wise was named its defensive player of the year, and head coach Tyler Sain was named coach of the year, as voted on by the league’s eight head coaches.
The three awards capped a season in which West Lincoln won 22 games, won the SD-7 regular season and tournament championships, and reached the third round of the state playoffs.
Not bad for a program that didn’t know who its starting pitcher would be or what would happen in a new conference.
“They went above and beyond what I expected, to be honest. Way above and beyond,” Sain said. “Twenty wins? We haven’t had 20 wins in a long time.”
Leonhardt was one of two freshman starters for the Rebels, and her bat made a huge impact.
The younger sister of Karsen Leonhardt, who is headed to Division II Campbell University on an athletic scholarship, Kylee Leonhardt hit .602 (50 for 83), scored 35 runs, drove in 56, had 10 doubles, three triples, and belted 11 home runs.
Her 11 round-trippers are good enough for second in the state, according to teams that have submitted their stats to Maxpreps.com.
“I went out with confidence. I was excited about the season,” said Leonhardt. “I was shocked. I didn’t know I’d get (the award).”
Wise, a crafty right-hander who relies on her movement, pitched all but 2 1/3 of her team’s innings this season –– 161 2/3 innings, or 485 outs –– and went 22-4 with 18 complete games, seven shutouts, and a 2.21 ERA.
Wise struck out 221 –– also second in the state –– to 66 walks, and held opponents to a .216 average.
As her stats suggest, Wise steps into the pitching circle looking for the hook.
“I strike people out,” she said. “(I) work for it.”
Sain had planned on using a pitcher-by-committee approach before the season began, he said, but once it started, he had no choice but to stick with Wise.
Only a sophomore, Sain has Wise for two more season, and will get three more out of Leonhardt.
Looking ahead to next season, the Rebels graduate four, but only half of them starters –– Karsen Leonhardt and Lyla Sain –– so they should enter 2015 as the favorites to do it all again.
They even have some current eighth graders who Sain expects to make an immediate impact next season.
“Our future does look bright. We should be pretty solid for several years,” he said.
Even with all the Rebels accomplished, they’re understandably bitter about Tuesday’s 8-3 third-round loss at East Rutherford that cost them their season.
But that’ll be used a fuel for next season’s run.
“I’m definitely disappointed that we’re not playing, but it was a good season,” Kylee Leonhardt said. “I think I’m satisfied with how it went. I wasn’t expecting it.”