By Jason Haddix
For The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
If the student-athletes who took the field in Monday night’s sectional softball action needed a bit of motivation, they could have looked to pitcher’s circle at Legends Field where Andrea Vellinga stood and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Pendleton Heights battled Richmond in the opening game, as the Arabians ran past the Red Devils 10-0 in five innings. Game 2 featured Anderson and New Castle, with the Indians getting trounced 10-1.
But each game’s outcome seemed insignificant when looking behind the third base dugout and seeing Vellinga sitting there with a smile on her face from ear to ear.
Vellinga is a 1999 graduate of Pendleton Heights and was a standout on the Arabians’ volleyball and track teams. She sustained a traumatic brain injury as a result of the stage collapse during the 2011 Indiana State Fair.
“I just need to get some strength in this right arm, I didn’t throw it all the way to the plate,” Vellinga said with a smile. “It feels good being back here and the support, I just can’t help it, I was crying. I love this.”
Her smile got even bigger after the first inning of Game 1 when the Arabians put up three runs to jump out to a 3-0 lead.
“We wanted to come out and make a statement,” PH coach Rob Davis said. “The way we started out, I was not sure we were going to do that.”
The Red Devils touched up Pendleton Heights starter Brooke Wendling in the top of the first by loading the bases with just one out. The senior pitcher bounced back to induce two straight popouts to end the inning.
The three runs the Arabians answered with were spearheaded by Sarah Dixon, who led off the bottom of the first with a single to right field. She went on to go 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI.
“Sarah Dixon is our table setter,” Davis said. “When she gets on good things are going to happen, especially with no outs. That is exactly what happened. She got on, and everybody feed off that.”
Each of the Arabians that stepped in the batters box reached base at least once.
“It was one of those things where everything was clicking for us,” Davis said. “Everything we did was working, and everything we tried to do was right.”
Both offensively and defensively, the Arabians continued to roll. Pendleton Heights put up runs in the each of the four innings it batted, including five in the third. Wendling allowed six additional hits, but no Red Devils crossed the plate.
“The first inning kind of scared me,” Wendling said. “After that, I felt good and the offense helped out a lot.”
Her first inning struggles could have been a result of trying to set aside the emotion of Vellinga’s performance.
“It was really inspiring, and I wanted to do my best,” Wendling said “She is a real inspiration. Her story is amazing.”
Vellinga said she is honored the team thinks of her as an inspiration but quickly added the Arabians have raw athletic talent and need no inspiration to be successful.
But, to the Arabians, she is just that, an inspiration. The ball she was presented with shows the team’s appreciation. It read, “Thank you, you are such an inspiration.”
“That is special, and it brought tears to my eyes,” Davis said. “It was great, just the inspiration she has on all the lives here. Not just in Pendleton but throughout the state. It is just amazing.”
Pendleton Heights takes on New Castle at 5:30 p.m., in the first of two sectional semifinals tonight. Game 2 pits Greenfield-Central against Connersville.