Hudson Valley Sports Report

SEVENTH-GRADER MAKING HER MARK

Pine Plains Softball Standout Lourdes Belanger Helps Bombers Into The Final Four

By Philip Sanzo
Special to HVSR

PINE PLAINS – Soft toss is not always the most exciting part of softball practice. To some it is tedious. It’s not a real pitch, there is a net no more than two feet in front of the batter.

To many it’s a chore.

To Pine Plains softball standout Lourdes Belanger, it’s a valuable way to get better. And further.

Belanger and her Bomber teammates are making their first New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class C Final Four appearance on Saturday when they take on Greenville on Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Town of Moreau Recreation Park in Glens Falls. The winner of that game plays for the state title at 1:30 p.m.

On this day, a sunny Wednesday afternoon, Belanger has junior catcher Cat Simmons tossing balls – and advice – to her.

“You have a loop swing, so if anything is up and in and you don’t have two strikes, don’t swing at it,” Simmons told Belanger as she tossed a softball into her strike zone. “You’re either going to get jammed or you’re going to hit a little dribble.”

Pointing to the outer half of the plate Simmons added, “You crush balls out here.”

It’s true.

Though only 13-years-old and in seventh grade, Belanger has ascended to the top of the Bombers potent lineup and is starting in right field.

During batting practice with a full squad on the field, Belanger, a right-handed hitter, shot most of the balls to right field.

Her innate knowledge of the game is something that comes with many travel softball players according to coach Les Funk.

“She’s played in tournaments all over the place so she’s used to seeing all kinds of pitching,” Funk said. “Even though she is probably 12 or 13 age group, she’s seen 14/16-year-olds pitching. So that experience, that’s invaluable.”

She’ll have her skills at the plate tested Saturday in the semifinal game vs. Greenville ace Ava Fitzmaurice. Fitzmaurice has not allowed a run in her last two outings and has only given up two hits in that same span.

When facing a pitcher of that magnitude, Belanger is just looking to make solid contact. According to the rookie outfielder, the pressure is on the pitcher to throw the strike. While she tries to keep her head relatively clear while batting, Belanger understands an opposing pitcher’s strategy.

“Usually, most pitchers, the first pitch they’ll pitch is probably a fastball either inside or down the middle,” Belanger said. “Most pitchers do that so that is what I’ll think in my head. But you always have to keep in the back of your mind that they could throw you a screwball, they could throw you a changeup or something. So you always have to be ready for something that you wouldn’t be, so expect the unexpected.”

It did not take long for Funk and the other coaches to recognize the amount of talent that Belanger possessed. In fact, it only took about 20 minutes on the first day.

When asked what about Belanger stood out, Funk said it was her “athletic ability and her toughness.”

To Simmons, it was her raw potential at such a young age.

“From day one she’s been throwing and hitting with me,” Simmons said. “She throws almost as hard as I do and is going to be hitting like I do when she is older.”

Despite being intimidated at first, Belanger quickly felt welcomed and a part of the team.

“I don’t feel like I’m in seventh grade,” Belanger said. “Everyone is so together and welcoming, not that they wouldn’t be. We’re so close and that is what you want a team to be like because you wouldn’t want anybody to be treating you like in the grade you are when you’re much more mature.”

From starting the season batting in the bottom part of the lineup to now leading off for the Bombers, Belanger’s quick rise attests to her confidence and overall skills as a batter.

Standing alone in the dugout in between drills, Belanger broke down her swing into parts. Analyzing the placement of her hands and feet, she moved her bat through an imaginary zone in slow motion.

While Simmons has proved to be a major resource in terms of hitting, Belanger still takes it upon herself to understand the inner workings of her swing.

It is not uncommon for Belanger to “go through the motions” of her swing like she did alone in the dugout. If she finds herself not making good enough contact she’ll put in the extra work needed to fix it.

Generally good contact yields base hits and in Belanger’s case, it means base hits to the opposite field.

“With righty’s they usually don’t tend to hit to the opposite field,” Belanger said. “They usually pull it to center or left, so I think it’s a good quality to have. Also I’ve always just hit that way so it’s a little natural too.”

Fortunately for Belanger she still has her entire high school career to become an even more dangerous hitter. And the next step will be the New York State Final Four.

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