When she committed to play softball for Illinois-Chicago, Kaleigh Nagle knew her career would continue as an infielder, not a pitcher.
But when her team needed her most, the Plainfield Central senior knew exactly where she was needed: right in the pitching circle.
“I’m going to college as an infielder, but I had to do it for the team so I was going to pitch,” Nagle said. “When you’re pitching, you can control the game, just have to count on your defense.”
After making a tough decision for the benefit of the team, Nagle was a force for a Wildcats squad that finished 28-6. The senior pitcher/shortstop was 25-4 in the circle with a 1.41 ERA, 125 strikeouts and two saves.
She was far from a one-dimensional player, doing damage at the plate to the tune of a .451 batting average with seven home runs, 32 RBI, 40 runs, 12 doubles, nine triples and nine stolen bases in nine attempts.
For her efforts in helping Plainfield Central to the Southwest Prairie Conference title and a berth in the sectional championship, Nagle has been selected the Herald-News 2013 Softball Player of the Year.
“It’s a really good feeling, and it means a lot to me,” Nagle said. “The (Southwest Prairie) conference and (the area) was so stacked with so many good players, it feels great.”
A three-year varsity starter, Nagle had some fun with coach Anne Campbell about her switch from starting shortstop to starting pitcher, but Campbell knew not to take it too seriously.
“At the beginning of the season, Kaleigh would tease me about playing short,” Campbell said with a laugh. “She knew if we were going to have team success, she was going to have to be good on the mound. There was no need to sit down and talk about it. Kaleigh worked harder and had even more focus.”
Her pitching season was impressive in itself, the 25 wins a single-season program best. Nagle finished her career with a 50-10 overall record, also a program best.
More impressive? Playing shortstop during the club travel season, Nagle had not pitched since the previous May when the 2012 season ended. Preseason practices were devoted to getting back into a rhythm and building up endurance.
“I was surprised a lot, and I think some others were too, about how quick it came back,” Nagle said. “I hadn’t pitched since junior year, but I came back and felt good pitching.”
Her opponents all season can attest to that. In racking up her record 25 wins, Nagle was dominant for the Wildcats, pitching in 33 of the team’s 34 games. In 25 of her 28 starts, she gave up three runs or fewer.
Her dominance pitching came without the benefit of huge strikeout totals (125), the senior relying on her defense, a talented if young defense that typically featured six non-seniors.
Nagle is more than willing to give props when they’re due.
“With a young team, what the defense did was great,” Nagle said. “They made some amazing plays behind me.”
Trying to get Nagle as many at-bats as possible, Campbell inserted her star senior into the leadoff spot, with Nagle managing at least one hit in 31 of Central’s 34 games in helping jump-start the offense.
Her 60 hits and nine triples also set marks for program bests.
“Kaleigh had such a calm demeanor and didn’t get rattled, too high or too low,” Campbell said. “She just comes to play, and that transitioned to the team. The other kids looked up to her. Just her intensity, the way she plays, that type of player doesn’t come along too often.”
Nagle has left her mark. With freshman Maddy Janssen Central’s No. 2 pitcher, Nagle did her best to welcome her to the varsity.
“I think Maddy looked up to me, and she got comfortable quick, learned a lot even if she wasn’t playing as much,” Nagle said. “I feel like she’s going to be a pretty good pitcher. Our team had a lot of leaders, and I tried to lead by example. I try to talk more, and I’m always working on it.”