Considering that Seneca High School graduate Nicole Pihl had such a record-breaking career for the Fighting Irish, it’s no wonder that she’s been making the All-Star rounds since the prep season ended.
First there was the Super-60 Tournament and that led up to the Chicago Bandits Senior All-Star Game. Both of those events were held in Illinois. Then to cap things off, Pihl played in a national all-star softball tournament held in Denver, Colorado.
While each of the events had their own special flair, the All-Star game held at Bandits Field in Rosemont was the one Pihl and Fighting Irish coach Dan Stecken were talking about at press time.
“Well its just amazing to have a kid from such a small school receive so many accolades and to even be invited to such an event,” Stecken said. “We take great pride in our softball complex both its design and appearance but the Bandits Stadium is top notch in Illinois.”
“The Bandits have a gorgeous facility in Rosemont. It is a turf field that has been perfectly maintained. Every few minutes, planes fly over the field courtesy of its proximity to O’Hare Airport,” she said. “Our coach actually told us to try and avoid hitting as a plane went over because the ball might die as it flew over. The coolest thing was probably going up to bat and seeing my picture and number out on the Jumbotron in center field. I certainly will always remember this experience as being one of the coolest things I’ve ever done through softball.”
The players for the game are selected by the Chicago Sun-Times and Pihl said she was honored to be amongst that group.
“I was beyond excited to be chosen to play in such a prestigious event. Being recognized by the Chicago Sun Times, a newspaper that primarily covers suburban teams, is such a wonderful honor,” she said. “It was so cool to be chosen to play with an assortment of girls that I’ve grown up playing with or against in summer ball.”
Previously, Pihl had played in the Super 60 Softball Tournament held at EastSide Centre in East Peoria. She was asked the biggest difference between participating in the two events.
“In the Super-Sixty All-Star game in East Peoria, I was playing against girls that were from all over the state,” Pihl said. “In the Bandits All-Star game, Bill Conroy, the Bandit’s coach, brought in his whole team, including girls that were not from Illinois. Also, the girls who were on his team from Illinois were primarily from the suburbs. When I played in the Super Sixty, there were very few girls from the Chicagoland area.”
Pihl said that she got to play first base at the event in Rosemont, even though she didn’t do as well as she would have liked at the plate.
“This year, I was fortunate to play first base all seven innings. I was 0-for-2 hitting with a weak pop-up to the first baseman off of Keegan Hayes from Naperville and a strikeout off of Taran Alvelo, a pitcher who is going to pitch at the University of Washington, and has been committed there since before she started high school.”
A first-team All-State softball selection this spring for the Fighting Irish, Pihl did fare much better at the Super-Sixty and the Fireworks and Sparkler Tournament in Denver. In the Super-Sixty, Pihl had four hits, including a double, home run and five RBI. She then hit another home run in Denver.
“This past week while visiting family in Colorado, I was fortunate enough to watch Nicole one last time in one of the premier softball tournaments in America in the greater Denver area,” Stecken said. “True to form she launched a mammoth home run to right-center off a pitcher from California. Its always great watching her play but to see her succeed against such top notch talent is still amazing.”
Pihl said that she tried not to let the pressure of facing such talented competition get inside her head.
“I didn’t feel pressure to impress others, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could have success against one of the best travel teams in the country,” she said. “Sure, it was nerve-wracking going up to the plate and attempting to hit off of a pitcher throwing 70+ MPH, but it was a great experience to aid in my college softball preparation. I need to get used to seeing that next level of pitching, and I certainly got a good start in this game.”
Pihl will be attending DePaul University beginning this fall. There she will be playing softball for the Blue Demons on scholarship.
Pihl’s memorable career at SHS includes retiring with the second-most home runs ever in a career (53) and she also ended up fourth all-time in career RBI with 222. Her senior season she hit .576 with 17 doubles, 11 home runs and 42 RBI. She walked 45 times to produce a .705 on-base percentage and as a pitcher went 16-6 with a 2.23 ERA.
Still, the most lasting memory of Nicole playing at this level may be one to last a lifetime according to Stecken.
“Watching my five-year old daughter cheering for Nicole to hit a home run overlooking the Rocky Mountains is a lasting memory,” Stecken said.