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Keppel leads North Collins’ defensive effort

Junior shortstop Jenna Keppel kept a running gag within the softball team at North Collins alive, half-joking her coach to warm up and get ready to pitch.

The Lady Eagles had two capable starters in Sam Grier and Morgan Lawton.

However, on a day when his Eagles had the bats going, Jan Warren gave Keppel the opportunity to pitch.

“She’s been begging me. She always tells me she’s our backup-backup pitcher,” said Warren, the head softball coach at North Collins. “If we got ahead by a lot I’d let her pitch, and we got ahead so I let her have a little fun. But I told her that if she walked three batters, she’s done.”

Keppel made it through her debut on the mound against Global Concepts on May 2. She threw one strikeout and one walk, while two other girls hit the ball, but grounded out in a 18-3 victory.

“My favorite memory was definitely of me pitching. Greatest memory ever,” said Keppel. “We were up by like 25. Every game I’m like ‘Do you want me to go warm up coach?’ He always says no, but one day he said yes.

“I’m like ‘Oh my gosh, this is happening.’ He said if I walked more than three batters then I’m done. That was a lot of pressure, but I only walked one.”

She even displayed what she calls a ‘trick pitch’ where she throws the ball, but continues her motion as if she didn’t know the ball yet. But she was so embarrassed and afraid to get penalized for it that she apologized.

“I have this trick pitch…I played it off like I didn’t mean to, when I absolutely did,” she said.

Although she will never forget her precious four at bats on the mound, Keppel has been a mainstay at shortstop for the last two springs.

“She’s really tough at short. She controls everything that goes out there,” Warren noted. “She gets the ball on the cuts and knows where to go with it. She’s gotten some big hits for us in our wins.”

A starter between second and third base since her sophomore season, Keppel had to grow into the reliable defender that she is today.

“Last year I started out a little rough, but I progressively got better, and I still am,” she said.

North Collins received more help on the backend this spring with the addition of Richelle Cyrek.

Coming from Hamburg’s junior varsity program last year, Cyrek has contributed right away in the outfield and as the leadoff hitter at the plate.

“What an addition,” said Warren. “She’s catching everything that’s hit out to her. She’s really good at the plate. She can bunt, she can hit for power and she can run. She’s been a real plate setter for us offensively because she’s our leadoff hitter.”

Her bunting skills have been especially effective for a team with recent troubles on offense.

One time in particular, she downed the perfect bunt. After she connected with the ball, it stayed on the line the entire time, spinning on the foul line and refusing to roll into foul territory as Cyrek made it to first base safely.

“Everyone was waiting for it to come out, but it never did,” said Cyrek. “I didn’t get to see it because I was going to first, but everyone told me it was pretty good.”

Arrika Bley has been one of the more consistent players for the Eagles this spring, working on both sides of the plate for a team that have seen its struggles batting.

“She’s been our number four hitter since the season has started,” noted Warren. “She’s hit some bombs for us against good pitching in Franklinville and Cattaraugus Little Valley.”

“Last year I was pretty good, I think,” Bley said. “I don’t think I’m playing as good as I was last year offensively. None of us are.”

Although it has been a down year on the offensive side of the plate, fifth-seeded North Collins put up enough runs to compete with No. 4 Brocton, falling 6-5 in the Class D quarterfinals on May 27.

“I keep stressing to them to stay together, do what we do and we’ll be fine,” Warren said at a practice just a few days before the postseason began.

“If we do what we’re supposed to do defensively and swing at good pitches, we should be fine. Because we have a tendency to lose our focus at the plate and swing at bad pitches most of this season.”

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