When it comes to naming a Player of the Year in any sport, a lot of questions go into consideration. First, is the player a dominant force? Second, did that player’s team make a deep run into the post-season? Third, did that player make a significant difference to that particular team?
Morris’ Abby Burns is the one softball player in the area that the answers come back an emphatic yes.
Even though she was just a freshman this season, Burns made the biggest impact on her team’s fortunes, and for that, she is named the Morris Daily Herald’s Player of the Year. Burns went 18-8 with a 1.62 ERA on the mound with 173 strikeouts in 173 innings and led the Redskins to a sectional final appearance before losing to eventual Class 3A state runner-up Manteno. She also hit .275 with four doubles and 10 RBIs. In large part due to Burns’ contributions, Morris went 21-10 after winning just eight games the season before.
“Abby made a big difference for us,” Morris coach Jen Lowery said. “We gave her the start in the season opener against Yorkville, and we won 3-0. That game was the kick start to our season. The girls had confidence in Abby after she threw a shutout in the opener.”
It was an eye-opener for Burns as well.
“I didn’t know until before the game that I was going to start,” she said. “I had been practicing with both the frosh-soph and varsity teams. Coach Lowery let me pitch for the varsity in the first game and I was surprised. I was pretty nervous, l but I get nervous before all my games. Once the game starts, though, it’s just a softball game.”
Burns has played the game her whole life, and many of her summers have been spent with the Morris Rowdie Katz. That type of competition prepared her, but she says the biggest adjustment was knowing that every hitter she faced was capable of damage. But what she fell back on was knowing that her team had her back.
“The team accepted me right away, even though I was just a freshman,” she said. “The coaches did, too. They just treated me as a player, no matter what class I am in in school. It was nice knowing that I could let the other team hit the ball and my teammates were going to make a play. I knew I didn’t have to strike everyone out. I could trust my defense.
“Knowing that made it a lot easier to pitch. I knew I could strike someone out if the situation called for it, but knowing that I didn’t have to most of the time really helped out.”
Going from an eight-win season to 21 wins and a sectional final appearance was a big step, and Burns is eager to take even more steps in the future.
“I am excited about the next three years,” she said. “We went to state in eighth grade [at Shabbona], so a lot of those girls I played with on that team will be coming up. The biggest thing I will take from this season is the way the team was so accepting of me. I will never forget that. They treated me as a full member of the team from the start.”