BLC’s Williams earns UMAC softball honor

CATCHING ON — Bethany Lutheran College freshman catcher Courtney Williams frames a pitch for the home plate umpire during softball action against Martin Luther College on Tuesday in Mankato. Williams, a former Fairmont High School standout, was named the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference softball player of the week on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Bethany Lutheran College)

MANKATO — Courtney Williams knew there’d be a number of adjustments she’d have to make at the collegiate level during her freshman campaign on the softball diamond.

None, however, like the proverbial curveball that Bethany Lutheran College head coach Dan Nessler delivered this spring.

Not only did the former Fairmont High School slugger have to adapt to the increased velocity and variations of pitches while in the batter’s box, Williams also was asked to trade her infielder’s glove for a catcher’s mitt.

“While I was being recruited, he (Nessler) said they (Vikings’ coaching staff) were looking at me playing either third base or shortstop like I did at Fairmont,” said Williams, who holds the Cardinals’ single-season (13) and career (21) home run records. “A rash of injuries, however, left our coaches looking for someone to catch.

“Coach Nessler told me they were holding tryouts for the position, and that I was on the list of potential catchers due to my arm strength.”

So, Williams squeezed her lean 6-foot frame into shin guards, a chest protector and a catcher’s mask, and opened her rookie collegiate season behind the plate.

“I was a bit shocked when he (Nessler) told me that I’d be our starting catcher,” said Williams, who last called signals at age 10. “I had to learn a whole new position. I worked on framing pitches, making pitchers hit their spots and understanding the whole psychological part of getting batters out.”

Williams then adapted her newfound knowledge of calling a game behind the plate into a mental edge inside the batter’s box with each passing game.

The 2017 Sentinel All-Area co-softball player of the year then assembled one of Bethany Lutheran College’ most prolific offensive performances over a five-game span — April 8-13 — to earn the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference’s softball player of the week accolades.

The hard-hitting Williams connected for five home runs during a four-game stretch, produced 15 RBIs, scored eight runs, hit .500 (7-for-14), reached base at a .611 clip and posted an off-the-charts 1.571 slugging rate.

Williams hammered two homers and collected six RBIs during an 11-6 victory in Game 1 of a doubleheader against Crown College on April 9. The Vikings’ freshman tied a school single-game record in both of those two offensive categories.

So, what’s the secret to her success?

“I’m seeing the ball better than during the beginning of the season, and just making good contact by putting the bat in the middle of the ball,” said Williams.

A second factor behind Williams’ recent power surge — Bethany Lutheran has been able to play its games outside.

“At the start of the season, we played the majority of our games inside mini-domes. That was frustrating because I’d be making decent contact, but I’d end up hitting the ball off the dome’s ceiling. Once we got outdoors, those fly balls starting going over the outfield fence finally.”

Bethany Lutheran has assembled a six-game winning streak heading into Easter break, improving its overall seasonal record to 20-9, and Williams has played a key role in the Vikings’ recent surge in the conference standings.

“Hopefully, I can continue to contribute both offensively and defensively to help our team keep winning throughout the rest of the season,” said Williams.

The former Fairmont standout and Bethany Lutheran College return to diamond action at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday in Game 1 of a doubleheader against North Central University at Rod Carew Field in Minneapolis.

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