Sussex - Both player and coach admit there's a learning curve as it concerns Jenny Shernell's transition to shortstop. She's not as comfortable there as she was playing first base last year, or perhaps even catcher the year before.
But Shernell became acclimated to the position and played her best defense late in the year. For a player whose physical presence in the middle of the diamond aligns with her metaphorical value to the Sussex Hamilton softball team, that worked well when the Chargers made a shocking run to the WIAA Division 1 state softball tournament. For her efforts, Shernell was named to the 2012 All-Suburban Softball Team by NOW Newspapers.
"It was a lot of work outside of practice (switching to short)," said Shernell, whose been playing third base with her summer team, Pride of the Midwest out of Brookfield. "My defense kind of went down at the new position, but everything offensively pretty much went up throughout the year compared to last year and the year before."
The junior Shernell batted .488 for the Chargers, slugged .750 and finished with 28 RBIs, four home runs and six stolen bases. Throw in a team-best 35 runs scored for the first-team All-Conference choice, and Shernell had a fine year by most standards.
But the cherry on top came in the postseason, when the ninth-seeded Chargers (16-10) knocked off four higher seeded teams - including border rival and top seed Menomonee Falls - to reach the state tourney for the first time since 1991. Eventual state champion Chippewa Falls ended the Cinderella run in the quarterfinals.
"We knew we could be good," Shernell said. "Beating Falls helped because we had lost to them so many times previously. I was just trying to keep myself focused, thinking it was just another game. It was great being able to play on the Madison diamond and everything."
Learning new position
Coach Jim Lawinger, a longtime veteran who was at the helm for the last Chargers team to reach state, took his team to watch a University of Wisconsin game at Goodman Diamond in April. Less than two months later, he was coaching a game on the same surface, and Shernell was a big reason why.
"She's a big, strong, fast girl who can throw and hit," Lawinger said. "Pitching and shortstop are your two hardest spots to learn - thinking will get you into trouble more than anything. You can field the ball, you can react, but now you put a person going to second and everybody moving around … it's a big transition.
"Down the stretch, Jenny's defense got a lot better, and her decision making got a lot better. She was making diving stops in the Falls game, and when she picked up her confidence, everybody else sort of rode her bandwagon."
A banner year
Third-year pitcher Sydney Sprinkel, second-year outfielder Sami Williams and senior Katie Weber also rose to the forefront for Hamilton, which followed the win over Falls by knocking off West Allis Hale and Watertown.
"It's almost overwhelming how great we did," Shernell said.
It's been a banner year for Shernell in more ways than one. She was a starting forward on the basketball team that won its first-ever conference championship in the winter. Lawinger thinks she has a future on the diamond.
"She really wants to play college ball; she just needs a little more experience and relaxation," Lawinger said. "Hitting wise, she really came on fast."
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