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An ace in the hole

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St. Bede's Laine Schweickert is the 2013 BCR Softball Player of the Year

Two perfect games.

A no-hitter with one out to go in 6-0 sectional semifinal win.

Nineteen strikeouts in 10 innings in sectional championship victory.

Twenty three strikeouts in 9.2 innings against Putnam County.

Leading your team to the State Tournament for the first time in school history.

Those are all the makings of a Player of a Year. And St. Bede senior ace Lainie Schweickert had them all in 2013.

She had one of the best seasons ever by any Bureau County pitcher.

“Lainie has been a four-year varsity player and a pleasure to be around,” second-year St. Bede coach Bill Prokup said. “She always hustles, was a good leader, and had a smile on her face most of her time. She really enjoys the game and her energy was contagious within the team. She is one of the toughest competitors on our team and is always poised on the mound.”

Schweickert started pitching at 8 years old. She said her dad, Jerry, got her into softball and “I really enjoyed it.” She gained a competitive spirit at a young age trying to keep up with some of her more talented ASA teammates on the Starved Rock Bandits like Brittany Zawacki and Brianna Zeman of L-P.

“Some of my other friends are pitchers and it gave me the strive to go after it, too,” she said. “They pushed me along because there were two other pitchers on my team in ASA and they were always a step ahead of me and it always pushed me to get better than them.”

“Through hard work and  the support of her family and pitching coach, she has to be considered the best we have ever had at St. Bede,” Prokup said. “I have seen her mature as a pitcher starting when she was 9 years old on our ASA team. She was the third pitcher behind Brianna Zeman and Brittany Zawacki. She wasn’t going to get many innings with that type of talent so she went to another program to get her innings. It turned out pretty good for her.”

That moved took Schweickert to the Bureau County Blaze and then on to the Academy. The rest is history, which she helped make at St. Bede this season,

Schweickert is well-armed inside the circle with a variety of pitches including a fastball, change-up, riseball and curveball. This past offseason, she added a screwball to her repertoire under the tutelage of her pitching coach, Jessica Finch. It was simply unfair to the batters who had to wonder what was coming next.

“It was the easiest to pick up. I just learned this year, picked up first two lessons I went to,” Schweickert said. “They weren’t expecting it. I think I caught them off guard. That’s my out-pitch now.”

It proved to be quite the out pitch. She struck out 266 batters over 157.2 innings (1.5 per inning) while allowing just 46 walks and 55 hits this season. She fashioned a 0.67 ERA which has been bested only once in the past decade by Bureau County hurlers.

Prokup said it must have been tough having such a large target on her back “but she never backed down, never made an excuse and always wanted the ball. …. She has command of five pitches and great movement on the ball.”    

Her batterymate, Lady Bruin senior catcher Lydia Stariha said it was fun to catch Schweickert. While Stariha called most of the pitches, she said Schweickert could call them off if she wanted.

“She’s a fantastic pitcher,” Stariha said. “She is very good hitting her spots and has so many pitches she kept batters on her toes.”

Schweickert’s win and strikeout totals increased each season at the Academy. Her strikeout column went 61, 165 and 225 before this year’s 266 whiffs brought her career tally to 717. In the win column, Schweickert went from 8, 12, 16 and 19 for a career win-loss record of 55-21.

The best part of pitching, Schweickert said, is “being in control of the game, going at my own speed and taking charge, I guess.”

She relishes the challenge of ever pitch she has with each batter, even though they might be some of her friends on the other area teams.

“I always want to beat the batter, obviously,” she said after pitching the Lady Bruins to a 9-2 regional title win over Mendota. “I’ve got some friends on the other team, like Ashlynn Kennedy and Brooke Carroll, I’ve played with them, it’s challenging to go against them and makes me want to do better and get them out.”

An all-around player, batting .337 and sharing the team lead in RBIs (25) with newcomer Emmi Christensen, Schweickert said it helps her pitching to think like the batter.

“You think ahead of them, what they might throw you and just be ready for everything.”

It was a formula that added up to the Academy’s first state tournament run.

“This team knew that Lainie was going to keep them in every game and they worked hard to support her.  If we didn’t, we felt we let her down,” Prokup said. “She should take great pride in the fact her team had so much confidence in her. I am sure Lewis University players will feel the same way for the next four years.”

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