CEDAR LAKE | People shouldn't be surprised when they see Melissa Balkema on the center of the stage. The sophomore from Hanover Central has been there for much of her life.
The multi-talented softball player had a monster hit last week in the Class 3A Kankakee Valley Sectional, which her Wildcats won with back-to-back 1-0 wins over K.V. and Andrean.
"Some of our players thought that winning the sectional was unreal," Balkema said Saturday morning. "Going against K.V. and defending state champion Andrean, two very good teams, was tough. Winning sectionals was a huge goal for our team.
"We did not want it to be the last game for our three seniors."
According to Wildcats coach Larry McMillen, Balkema went into the postseason with a .439 batting average with 21 RBIs, 26 runs, six doubles and three home runs.
But her third-inning single against K.V. proved to be the winner.
Hanover will host Griffith on Tuesday night at 7 for the Class 3A regional championship.
Balkema, though, is not all softball all the time. After attending Crown Point Christian through eighth grade, she played basketball and soccer in middle school.
She also plays the flute, is in Hanover's Show Choir and is also into theater . She had the lead role of Silvia in the play, "Caught in the Act." And, just for kicks, she is an honor student with a 3.7 GPA.
"Melissa had a great power-hitting season as a freshman," McMillen said, referring to his player who hit two home runs off Andrean ace Nikki Steinbach last year.
"This year she's hitting for base hits more," McMillen added. "She's really putting the ball in play really well."
Balkema said she's always had a natural ability to hit the ball, not just quick hands, but the eyes to swing at the best pitch available.
The Wildcats weren't playing great softball early in the year. But Hanover looks to be a very dangerous team now.
"It took us a little time to bond," Balkema said. "The senior leaders really helped us. We're playing for them. We don't want it to end."