Valparaiso at Highland softball

Highland's Jamie Gessler reacts after tagging Valparaiso's Margaret Etzler for the final out of the first game in Saturday's doubleheader.

Highland is off to a fast start this season with a 4-1 record, and it has good mixture of youth and experience.

Senior infielder Jamie Gessler has been a guiding force in the early part of the season. She went 5-for-7 in a doubleheader split with visiting Valparaiso on Saturday, collecting four RBIs in the process.

“Offensively, she’s a powerhouse,” Highland first-year coach Jessica Brannagan said of Gessler. “I’m super excited to see what she has in her this year. Defensively, she brings a strong solid defense, so I’m excited.”

Gessler, who plays shortstop and second base, puts in a lot of time on her offense, and she’s hitting .600 with a .933 slugging percentage. She had five doubles and seven RBIs.

“I hit a lot,” she said. “Whether it’s coming in before practice or after practice. I go to Triple Crown in Schererville, and I’ll hit there. I’ve got a net at home, so I’ll hit whenever I have free time. Yea, I practice a lot.”

Gessler is one of five seniors along with Felicity Grant, Morgan Rinkema, Carley Ramirez and Kiley Elbaor. The starting lineup regularly has two freshmen, and the top two pitchers are sophomore Breanna Burbridge and freshman Lacey Pierce. The Trojans feed off one another’s energy.

“We all kind of band together and really push each other,” Pierce said.

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Gessler is a four-year starter, so her leadership is key.

“Jessie has always been a solid offensive player for me, so I know what she’s capable of,” said Brannagan, who has been with the Highland program for six years, coaching the junior varsity.

“I’ve been with these girls for many years, so I’ve seen them go through the program. It’s exciting to be up here with them,” she said.

Gessler led the team in offense last year, batting .419 with six doubles, a triple, three home runs and 18 RBIs. She wants to help the team win the sectional for the third year a row and battle for an elusive regional crown, but first things first.

“Conference has always been a big thing too, beating Munster and beating Lowell and just everyone else in our conference,” she said. “We really want to win.”

Familiarity with Brannagan and her mentoring has helped Gessler improve her play.

“She was my travel coach growing up, too, having her as third (base coach). (In) any situation, I know that she has confidence in me,” Gessler said. “Whether I make an error or whether I strike out or whether I get a home run, I know that she is going to be there in my corner. That’s really helped out a lot.”