Lady Elks Wheeler shares newcomer honors
When freshman Natali Wheeler arrived at Burleson, Lady Elks’ softball coach Summer Owen knew she had a player “mature beyond her years.”
Wheeler proved just that starting at shortstop and helping Burleson to a second consecutive three-round playoff run.
The freshman’s play also drew the attention of the coaches of District 8-5A as she shared Newcomer of the Year honors with Aledo junior pitcher Hannah Andrews on the all-district team.
“Natali was huge for us,” Owen said. “It was a no-brainer that she was going to get something superlative and my whole thought was that she would get Newcomer of the Year because that is exactly what a newcomer is. She is a standout player and someone I can see being the MVP of the district in the next couple of years. She’s just going to get better and better.”
In her first season with the Elks, Wheeler led the team in slugging percentage (.761), runs scored (28), doubles (8), triples (2) and home runs (2). She was second on the team in batting average .457 and on-base percentage .469.
“Since you don’t have softball in junior high that makes it very hard to walk into high school without playing club softball,” Owen said. “There are some who have enough potential to do that but most of the really successful players have that background in club ball. They are so exposed to a high-level of play. Natali has been playing on good select teams all her life, so she really didn’t act like a freshman out there.”
Burleson had two players on the first-team in senior first baseman Emily Wilson and junior third baseman Zoe Miranda.
Owen said she is sad to see Wilson graduate because not only does she wield a great bat, she’s also a great leader on and off the field. Wilson’s .458 batting average was tops on the team and tied with two triples. She was second on the team with 24 runs scored, 15 doubles and slugging percentage (.656).
“Even though she wasn’t the fastest leadoff hitter, she was a smart base runner,” Owen said. “She knew when she could take the extra base either by extending for a double or going from first to third. Emily did a good job of setting the bar and the tone with her first at bat.”
Miranda was the “heart of the team” according to Owen.
“She is the leader of the team,” Owen said. “She was never say die. When she is at the plate with two strikes she has no fear. Most of her big hits came with two strikes. That’s something I’m trying to instill in the rest of the players to have no fear at the plate like Zoe. She knows it’s not over with two strikes. That’s a testament to her mental game. I can’t wait to have her senior influence because even though she has always been a leader when you are a senior they look up to you even more.”
Miranda led the Lady Elks with 29 RBI and 19 walks. The junior hit .423 with a .628 slugging percentage and a .536 on-base percentage. She collected 10 doubles, two home runs and scored 23 runs.
“This was her first-year playing in the field full-time and she made some plays at third base that just blew my mind,” Owen said.
The Lady Elks had three second team players in senior pitcher Hannah Loudermilk, junior centerfielder Saeya Esparza and sophomore second baseman Emory Smith.
Sophomore catcher Lauren Isbell and freshman Kyleigh Rich were honorable mention performers.
After finishing fourth in the district, the Lady Elks made another successful playoff run. Burleson defeated Fort Worth South Hills in a one-game playoff and followed the up with a series sweep of Saginaw Boswell. The Lady Elks playoff run ended with a pair of losses to crosstown rival Centennial.
Owen said the 2017 senior class has already stepped things up in the off-season and are setting the bar high for next season. She said they want to achieve more than they did last season.
Part of that dedication comes from the success they saw this season thanks to the hard work they did during the off-season. The hard work paid off in wins and much higher stats, Owen said.
“My first season started off rocky but my second one, this year got off to a much better start,” Owen said. “We were young and but our freshman caught on quickly. It takes a bit for them to learn the nature of it all and by the end each of these girls cared about this team more than individual accomplishments. They are tight knit now. Next year, the chemistry is going to so great. This will be my third year here and this will be my team. These girls will not have to be the ones who made adjustments to a new coach.”