When conversations turn to high school hitters in Michigan, they'll always include
. When the conversation turns to pitchers, they'll always include Sara Driesenga.
Her Hudsonville (Mich.)
coach Thomas Vruggink says either conversation should start and end with Sara.
"Players like Sara come along once in a lifetime," said Vruggink, who has been coaching at Hudsonville High School for 30 years. "She's just a special player. She does it all. She is rewriting all the school hitting and pitching records."
Driesenga has led Hudsonville to back-to-back Michigan softball titles and the goal is for a third straight. They've breezed through the first couple of rounds of the state playoffs, winning 29-0 and 13-5 last weekend.
She has been named Michigan's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year the last two years and Vruggink said she should make it three straight.
Last month, the Detroit Athletic Club named Driesenga Michigan High School Female Athlete of the Year. She is also one of 10 finalists for MaxPreps National Softball Player of the Year.
Driesenga might be more famous than other Hudsonville natives, including actor Taylor Lautner, who starred in the Twilight Saga movies. She certainly shares on-the-field notoriety with John Vander Wal, who played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues.
Did you know that another MaxPreps Player of the Year finalist is originally from Hudsonville? Yep, Paige McDuffee of Texas state champ and MaxPreps' No. 1 team The Woodlands was born in Hudsonville and moved to Texas at age 7.
"That would be quite the one-two combination wouldn't it," said Vruggink, three wins away from coaching Hudsonville's third-straight state title.
Vruggink said Hudsonville has received national accolades and recognition because of Driesenga. With his ace in the circle, Hudsonville won 49 games in a row, a streak started when Driesenga was a junior and ended earlier this season.
Backing up what Vruggink sees are Driesenga's high school statistics. She is 31-2 this season with 18 shutouts, with 209 strikeouts in 184 innings. She has walked only 10 and allowed just 69 hits. Her earned run average is 0.49 - up slightly over her junior season when Michigan preps pitched from 40 feet as compared to 43 in 2011. She has six no-hitters, including a trio of perfect games. She also pitched eight one-hitters this season.
Driesenga is hitting .460 and has 47 RBIs in 37 games. Vruggink noted she would be hitting higher, but teams are starting to walk her. She has eight homers and 10 doubles.
"Surprised it's taken teams this long to start walking her," said the veteran coach.
As a junior, she was 29-1, struck out 337 batters in 183 innings and walked just eight. Her ERA was 0.15. She also drove in 73 runs, as the team won 43 of 44 games. She batted .541 with 14 homers and 20 doubles.
As a sophomore, she was 20-2, with an 0.23 ERA, 224 strikeouts in 149 innings. She batted .463, despite playing three weeks with an injured non-pitching-shoulder and was forced to bat lefthanded.
Things were pretty much the same when she was a freshman.
"She's also our best baserunner, not our fastest, but our smartest. And she fields her position better than anyone I've seen," said Vruggink. Driesenga has 90 putouts, whereas other infielders are averaging in the 40s.
Though she throws in the mid-60s and has one of the top dropballs of any pitcher in the United States, Vruggink says her strong point is determination.
He noted that during one doubleheader this season, she pitched a perfect game in the first game, then had one for 6 2/3 innings in the second game when the count went full on a batter and the batter fouled off seven straight pitches.
"She finally got the third strike and the perfect game, but she just kept at it," said Vruggink.
"I wanted that one. We just kept battling and I kept bearing down. I finally got it where I wanted it," said Driesenga, noticeably embarrassed about the limelight.
Vruggink said she is the most unselfish player he has coached. "It's never anything she did. It's never about her. Her whole demeanor is what sets her apart."
Did we mention she has a straight-A average and was homecoming queen?
"I wasn't expecting that (homecoming queen), it's certainly not something you work for, but I was honored," said Driesenga, Hudsonville's MVP the last three seasons and an all-conference pick for four years.
She attributes working hard to being inspired by others and making the most of her talent.
"I'm watching the (college softball) World Series on television and that inspires me because I want to play in the College World Series. I watch them and see their results and will work hard to be successful in college," she said. "Everything I have is a gift from God and whatever he has given me. I want to use my softball to the best of my ability."
The 6-1 Driesenga will be attending the University of Michigan on a softball scholarship and starts school June 25.
"I'm taking a summer class so I can get a jump start on college," said Driesenga, who will play her summer ball for the 18 Gold Chicago Bandits. "I'll be lifting weights and getting stronger, working with the pitching coach. I know what I need."
Vruggink thinks Driesenga will step in to replace Michigan's graduated All-American Jordan Taylor. Though he says Driesenga's drop is the best and her location is "pinpoint," he says she has some work ahead of her.
"She needs to work on her change and rise," said Vruggink. "The sky is the limit for Sara."
"I'm not taking anything for granted," said Driesenga, who in 2009 and 2010 suffered left shoulder injuries and has recovered. "It all can change so fast. I just want to keep working hard and keep improving all areas of my game."
The march toward Michigan actually started when Driesenga was 9, when pitching coach Steve Howard saw potential. Her Little League team won state when she was 9, 10 and 11, then she switched to summer travel ball.
"He (Howard) saw something in me, so I just kept pitching. His forte is all about legs, striding straight ahead, staying open as long as you can," she said.
Today, Driesenga's stride is 7 feet.
Driesenga recalls in fifth grade she wrote an essay for school with a goal of getting a D-1 scholarship for pitching.
"Not everything (honors and accolades) should be coming to me," said Driesenga. "The entire team should be getting the recognition. I'm a dropball pitcher and I must trust my team."
She throws both the peel and rollover drop balls. With 90 putouts to her credit, obviously the drop works well. She also throws a slider, curve and screwball.
"Rarely are balls hit to the outfield," said Vruggink, who noted more than half of the base hits against his ace are of the infield variety. "She's a force when she is in the circle. She enjoys the challenge. She likes being out there."
Driesenga said the best part of pitching is, "having the ball in my hand every pitch and controlling what happens. If I make a mistake, it is on me."
She also admitted that can be the worst part of pitching. "If I make a mistake, no one to blame but me. And I didn't help the team."
The best part of softball?
"That's easy," said Driesenga. "It's all the relationships that have come from it. All the friends I've made, the coaches. It's all those who have helped the life I have. It's a great feeling knowing your teammates have your back. You can't replace the camaraderie."