Senior softball duo achieve greatness

By Kyle Inman

April 17, 2012

Seniors Leah Steele and Blair Stalder went out with a bang in their last game at Griffon Spring Sports Complex on Saturday against Lincoln. [caption id="attachment_10526" align="alignleft" width="150" caption="Seniors Blair Stalder (left) and Leah Steele (right) talk after their last game at Griffon Spring Sports Complex. Photo by Jason Brown. "][/caption] Stalder went 4-for-6 with two doubles and two RBIs.  Steele was walked twice, but took advantage of her third at-bat by blasting a two-run homer to left center in game two. Steele finished the day with two hits and two RBIs. "It felt really good, especially on senior day, because I kind of struggled before and then hitting the home run kind of made my day," Steele said.  "The walks had me getting frustrated. My parents and grandparents were excited." In their two years as the starting right side of the infield, second baseman Stalder and first baseman Steele have been a part of 76 wins and only 21 losses.  Coach Jen Bagley knows that the pair won't easily be replaced. "Every year, seniors go out and you think 'How am I going to replace those kids?' And this year is no different," Bagley said.  "It's always a bittersweet thing. You are sad to see them go, yet you are so proud of what they have accomplished while they were here, and you feel good about the experiences that they have had,  and in the end that's what it's all about." Steele came to Missouri Western out of high school and has been with the program for four years.  She has been an unsung hero that has always found her way into the lineup and showed improvement every season. "Leah has improved not only from a physical standpoint, but from a maturity standpoint," Bagley said.  "Her work ethic has always been good and her attitude has always been great, but physically she is at a point now where she can produce to what her potential is and it's exciting." Steele is batting .329 with 39 hits, 24 RBIs and three home runs in her senior season. The Kansas City native was nominated for Student Athlete of the Year for the softball team. The award will be announced Monday at the St. Joseph News-Press 13th Annual Student Banquet. "I have improved every single year, my stats and everything have gone up," Steele said. "You kind of learn and get to know the teams and get the hang of stuff.  I'm ready to be done with school, but school comes a lot easier as you go on." Stalder spent two years at Garden City Community College before she came to Western and became an immediate starter. "Blair came in and made her impact right away," Bagley said.  "There's nothing that she does that is flashy, but she is probably one of the most heady players that we have had." Stalder is batting .338 with 45 hits and only six strikeouts in her senior season, and is very methodical with every at-bat. "I just feel like she is capable of getting a hit when she wants to," Bagley said.  "Early on we weren't looking at her to be starting in the lineup last year, but after putting her in situations where she had to perform and produce, she just never gets out. "She gets the bat on the ball, and she's smart with her at-bats," Bagley said. "She purposely falls off pitches that she doesn't want.  Her hand-eye coordination is ridiculous." It's clear that Stalder enjoys her time out on the field while remaining fiercely competitive. "There is probably not a single player on our team that enjoys being out on the field more than Blair," Bagley said. "She literally has a smile on her face in the batters box during games." "I put a lot of pressure on myself," Stalder said.  "I want to be hitting .400 even though that's way above average. My main goal is just to get on base every time." Even more than all the wins and great moments on the field, the two seniors will remember the fun times and long road trips with their teammates and friends the most. "'I'll miss being part of the team, having people there all the time, constantly being with your friends, all the fun memories and the fun times and bus rides." Steele said. "I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to cope with not playing yet," Stalder said.