Sometimes the flame needs to flicker before it burns bright again.
For Highland pitcher Leegan Vorndran, the game of softball was becoming more a burden than bliss. After a strong freshman year with the Hornets, the right-hander played summer ball and then shut things down.
“I really needed a break from softball,” she said. “There was a lot of stress. I just felt like I needed a little time off to clear my mind. It was definitely a well-needed break. When I came back, that’s when I realized I missed it.”
The junior had some success with Highland two seasons ago, going 4-4 with a 2.87 earned run average and 31 strikeouts in 46⅓ innings.
Highland coach Nick Spirtos, who took over for Mandi Myser last season, knew of his budding talent after hearing about it from his players, but really didn’t know much more than what he was told.
That all changed when assistant Brent Belsole convinced Vorndran to come back.
“I heard her name, but didn’t know anything else,” Spirtos said. “I was going off of what my assistant said. He said she was really good as a freshman and took a break. He said she was lights out with good skills, good control, good speed and motion. She came back, played winter ball and was competitive.”
The rust showed a bit out of the gate when Vorndran lost games to Cloverleaf and North Royalton after opening with a win over St. Joseph Academy. In those losses, she gave up a combined six earned runs in 8 ⅔ innings.
It wasn’t as much getting knocked around as it was muscle memory.
“The struggle was because I hadn’t pitched for a year and a half,” Vorndran said. “My muscles were still weak from taking that time off before I got into the swing of things. I’ve been working hard with the team and the muscles have gotten back to where they used to be. Now, I’m more focused on my pitching as far as getting my technique down.”
That has certainly shown in the last few weeks, as Vorndran comes into today’s game with Cloverleaf riding a five-game winning streak.
Her six wins trail only Medina’s Megan Paradise (10) and Brunswick’s Courtney Saville (7) in Medina County, while her 53 strikeouts rank third as well. Vorndran’s 79 innings pitched are tops in the area, while her 1.68 ERA is third.
“I knew how good she was as a freshman and how good she could be this year,” Hornets catcher Kelley Cejer said. “Even though she took that year off, it looks like she never stopped playing.
“It was just getting the rust off after not playing high school and summer ball. Even if you practice, it’s not a game situation. It was just adjustments. Once she got her confidence back, she’s been great.”
That confidence exploded in the last game the Hornets played, when Highland knocked off Tallmadge — the Blue Devils are ranked 10th in the Division II state coaches poll — as Vorndran improved to 6-2. She pitched all 11 innings of a 6-5 walk-off win for the Hornets in a 10-strikeout performance.
“Tallmadge was 11-1 going into that game,” Cejer said. “That showed how much of an ace she was. Teams have to be ready for her and respect her. She knew how big Tallmadge was and she’ll build on it for the rest of the games in the league.”
That single win now has Highland back in the SL mix. The Hornets sit two games behind Tallmadge and behind second-place Wadsworth.
The Hornets still have both on the schedule, so the idea of riding the arm of Vorndran to a conference championship isn’t that farfetched.
“She’s strong and now is our go-to pitcher this season,” Spirtos said. “When you beat Tallmadge in that thrilling come-from-behind fashion, it’s impetus for the rest of the season.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.