Another power-packed season puts Pihl within reach of record
Seneca junior pitcher Nicole Pihl’s home run totals have gone from six as a freshman to 19 as a sophomore and 18 as a junior. As a pitcher she has helped pilot a Seneca softball team that has made it to consecutive sectional championships.
This school year, Pihl verbally committed to play ball for DePaul University.
With 37 home runs and 140 RBI over the past two seasons, not to mention 51 pitching victories, naming Pihl as the Morris Daily Herald All-Area MVP for a second straight season became something of a no-brainer this time around.
Last season, Pihl had one of the best seasons ever by an area performer, hitting 19 home runs and driving in 79. She bounced right back with 18 home runs and 61 RBI this past spring.
“My numbers were not quite as good as last year. They are similar, but I knew going in that I was probably going to be walked more this year and I was,” Pihl said. “I didn’t get to see as many pitches as I did the year before. But I’m still happy with the numbers. I knew it was going to be harder this season and it will be probably harder still next season.”
Pihl batted an even .500 this year (55 for 110) while scoring 27 times. In addition to the 18 home runs, she also had 10 doubles and three triples.
“Again she was our top offensive threat,” Seneca coach Dan Stecken said. “She was intentionally walked 10 times this season.”
Inside the circle, as the ace of the Lady Irish, Pihl threw 222 1/3 innings, striking out 201 and recording a 1.97 ERA. That is compared to a 26-9 record last year, with an ERA of 2.19 and 189 strikeouts.
“She really improved her pitching performance for us this season, increasing her strikeouts and lowering her ERA from last season,” Stecken said.
“I think my pitching was better than last year,” PIhl said. “I was able to get more out pitches this year. I added a screwball this year and I had worked on my curve ball all winter long. This year I want to add a really good rise ball.”
Seneca’s run in the Class 2A playoffs ended at the Watseka Sectional against St. Joseph-Ogden, but Pihl said the Lady Irish gave it their all in equaling last year’s run.
“We prepared very hard and we knew we were going to have a hard time right at the start of the regional. Our goal was to go farther than we did last year. We did everything we could,” Pihl said. “We lost to a St. Joe’s team that is an excellent team. They could really hit the ball. They were a super good team. Of all the teams we could have lost to, I’m glad we lost to them because they were the best team we played all year.”
Pihl said that she is relieved to have settled on a college as her senior season approaches.
“I am so happy and relieved to have that behind me. I verbaled this past year to DePaul and I am going to be playing at a DI school. The whole process has been stressful. Now it’s going to be a lot easier and I can relax and play the game.”
As a team, Seneca graduates four players who made the MDH All-Area team this year and Pihl knows that will not be easy to replace those valuable teammates.
“We’re graduating four starters off the team this year and that includes catcher, third base and outfield, so that’s going to be huge shoes to fill,” she said. “I think we’re going to have to shift some people around next year. But the big thing is that we need to keep working hard. Hopefully we can come back and repeat what we’ve done and go even farther next year.”
While Pihl does have one rather significant individual goal on her horizon, Stecken points out that she is a great team play to have in his dugout.
“You won’t find a more supportive teammate and a kid who loves the game more than her,” he said. “She always has a smile on her face whether on the field or in the dugout and she’s always cheering on a teammate.”
In turn, Pihl’s teammates will get to cheer her on next year as she pursues an individual goal that is certainly within her reach.
“My personal goal is to break the career record for home runs,” Pihl said. “The record is 55 and I currently have 42. It would be nice to set the IHSA record for home runs.”