PREP SOFTBALL

Andrean's Baker-Runyon first to win softball 'Player' and 'Coach' of the year

2012-06-21T17:00:00Z 2012-08-28T23:28:01Z Andrean's Baker-Runyon first to win softball 'Player' and 'Coach' of the yearBy Steve Hanlon steve.hanlon@nwi.com, (219) 933-4198 nwitimes.com

MERRILLVILLE | The butterflies were churning as the hot sun enveloped the hoopla and fanfare around the shining diamond at Ben Davis High School on June 9.

Brooke Baker had been here before. But Brooke Baker-Runyon had not.

"I remember sitting in the stands watching the (Class) 2A game," Baker-Runyon said. "And it hit me. It's up to the girls now. I can't do anything. It was a hard position. I wanted to help the girls."

Three times Baker had pitched Lake Central to the state finals. In 2002 she pitched the Indians to the state championship. She won the 2003 Miss Softball Award before a stellar career at Purdue.

And with Baker-Runyon sitting on the sideline, her historic story continued. Andrean scored six runs in the first inning of the Class 3A state championship game against Edgewood and went to win the title 9-2.

Baker-Runyon became the first player and coach to win a state championship.

Likewise, she becomes the first female to earn both The Times Player of the Year honor and Coach of the Year honor. Baker was The Times Player of the Year in 2001, '02 and '03.

This was also Baker-Runyon's first year at 5959 Broadway.

"She was more relatable to us," Andrean senior Johnee Rodish said. "She'd been in our shoes as a player. She knows what we're going through. We were really more disciplined this year. But we had a lot of fun, too.

"Like, every time Brenna (Boyle) came up to bat, we chanted different kinds of bread. And I do not know why."

Baker-Runyon replaced Henry Ryan as Andrean coach very late. She was named the 59ers coach a week before practice started. Yes, Andrean had made it to state last year, but an 8-0 loss to Indianapolis Roncalli stung deep and long.

"I figured we had talent, but I wasn't sure if the girls would be accommodating to me at our first practice. I didn't know what to expect."

But after a tough home loss against Kankakee Valley in the regular season, the coach had a hunch her roster could make a run. It wasn't the talent or the names or the resumes.

It was how they responded to the loss.

"After that loss I knew we had a chance," Baker-Runyon said. "That loss changed everything. The girls really came together after that."

Andrean senior pitcher Nikki Steinbach's outstanding game went to another level having a former pitching star now as her coach. Baker-Runyon talked with Steinbach before the 3A final.

The coach told the player how she felt before the biggest games she ever pitched. That struck a chord.

"Last year we were close," Steinbach said of the 59ers. "This year we were closer. We didn't have that pressure hanging over our heads and Brooke had a lot to do with that. As juniors we were so nervous and scared at state.

"This year we knew we were going to win. Brooke helped us get there."

For Baker, now several springs removed from her playing days, she keeps making history in a game she has defined. She heard about being the first player-coach state champion after regionals.

"I didn't know if anyone kept track or even cared about it," Baker-Runyon said. "That was pretty cool when the girls got it done. They wanted it for me as much as I wanted to for them.

"That's a special feeling that we all will share the rest of our lives."

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