MERRILLVILLE | It was over. A thing of the past, like the Edsel or Nick Nolte's smile not in a mug shot.
The critics claimed and the soothsayers swooned that in 2010, when the pitching rubber was moved back from 40 feet to 43 feet, that the age of the dominant pitcher were over.
Gentlemen, meet Andrean senior Nikki Steinbach, the 2012 Times Player of the Year. The Ball State-bound ace led her 59ers to the Class 3A state championship.
Steinbach is the first repeat winner since Whiting's Mel Dumezich in 2008 and '09.
Even in a new era of softball, the numbers don't lie.
Steinbach was 25-2 with a 0.47 ERA. She had 304 strikeouts. Her career numbers are even more staggering. She won 63 games with 724 strikeouts. In 455 innings in the circle, she allowed a mere 31 earned runs.
"Nikki was unbelievable," Andrean coach Brooke Baker-Runyon said. "I heard how good she was before I got here and she was. But she took her game to another level. She is an elite pitcher with a skill level that few can touch."
Steinbach pitched 29 shutouts, had six no-hitters, nine one-hitters and two perfect games.
Three of her four years she led the 59ers to the 3A state final. The first two times, her freshman and junior years, she brought home tears and a red ribbon.
This June, Steinbach picked up a blue ribbon, as she led the 'Niners to their third state championship.
"Brooke did a lot for me," Steinbach said of her coach. "She told me, for the first time, she believed in me. She helped me get better. But most of all she helped me prepare myself mentally for the biggest games.
"I owe a lot to her. I am going to miss her."
Steinbach verballed to Ball State early, before her junior prep season. The Cardinals won the Mid-American Conference regular season title. Two pitchers will graduate, opening a door for the tall fire baller.
She will rejoin former Andrean star Audrey Bickle in Muncie.
Steinbach had some quiet interest from some bigger schools, but she has been nothing but solid in her commitment to the Cardinals.
"They recruited me first and I love going down there," she said. "I am so excited to be a part of that program. I want to go in there and do everything I can to help us get to the NCAA tournament."
Bu first things first.
Baker was the last region player to win Indiana's Miss Softball honor. Most are saying it's a two-horse race between the Hobart resident and South Putnam's Brooke Boetjer, who was recently named the Indiana Gatorade Player of the Year.
"I can't worry about that," said Steinbach, who is a member of the North All-Stars who will play the South in a doubleheader on Saturday in Carmel. Miss Softball will be named in between the two games.
"That is out of my control," Steinbach said. "All I can do is be the best that I can be and I think I did that. You can't worry about what other people think."
"I know one thing," Baker-Runyon said. "Nikki's got my vote for Miss Softball."