MERRILLVILLE | Brenna Boyle had to pinch herself after Tuesday's practice at Andrean. Literally. And it wasn't because of the freezing temperatures outside that made softball practice on the frozen tundra a living hell.

The junior is actually in softball heaven these days, as she works with her teammates to get the 59ers back to the state level. Boyle had a state-record two doubles in last June's 9-2 win over Edgewood in the Class 3A state championship game.

"I think about that game every day," Boyle said on Tuesday, wearing her state championship ring with great pride and humility. "It's all really humbling. I never expected this to happen. It's the dream of every little girl who plays softball."

And Boyle didn't wake up. In November she was playing in a tournament in Florida. Valparaiso University coach Jordan Stevens was there. Boyle didn't know it. She just played her game.

She received an email from him, went to a Crusaders camp, got an offer and her future was sealed.

"I accepted it right away," she said. "It was the one college I really wanted to go to. The dream really happened."

Here's where the joy takes a step back, at least on Broadway this spring. The 59ers lost their ace, Nikki Steinbach, to graduation and Ball State.

Boyle is one of several players who might be called upon to enter the circle with monster shoes to fill. She pitched three games last year. The problem, though, is that Boyle is Andrean's best shortstop.

"It would be easy for us to focus in on the losses," Andean coach Brooke Baker-Runyon said. "Yes, we lost a lot of very talented players to graduation, including Nikki. But we're going to go with the positives. We have a lot of talented players and pitchers.

"We'll give them an opportunity and whoever pitches well will stay out there."

Baker-Runyon said that Katie Crandol will likely be the opening day starter. But Boyle will be in the mix at some point. She doesn't care. She wants to win.

"I love to play shortstop," Boyle said. "I would be perfectly fine pitching, too. I'll do whatever it takes to help the team have a winning season. We're working hard every day and trying to figure out who is going where.

"We have to be mentally strong, like coach Brooke says every day."

While the losses are many, losing four seniors with big-time talent, these 59ers have no thought of backing down to anyone.

"We can be as good as we want to be," Boyle said. "We lost Nikki. She was awesome. But it's all about our mental approach. If we work hard who says we can't do it again?"