There's a reason Courtney Case is such a great hitter and slick-fielding shortstop. The Pittsford Mendon junior works on her skills -- a lot. But here's her secret: Softball is fun for Case.
"You have to work hard every chance you get but go out and have fun, keep it fun," the 16-year-old says. "Staying in touch with that and loving it really helps."
For guiding the Vikings to a third straight Section V Class A championship with a Section V-record .720 batting average and eye-popping .844 on-base percentage while making just one error, Case is the All-Greater Rochester Player of the Year. A first-team all-state pick and the Monroe County Division III Player of the Year, she also was AGR last year when Mendon won the state crown and is a four-time all-league pick.
Stephanie Bertino of Mynderse (Class B) and Rick Mancuso of Batavia Notre Dame (D) are the AGR Coaches of the Year after guiding their teams to state titles. As for Case, it's simple: Whether at bat, on the bases or in the field, she impacts the game immensely.
"Courtney just has a passion and instinct for the game. She's fun to watch and fun to coach," Mendon coach Maureen Kempski said. "She has a presence that very few kids and athletes have. When she's on the field, the team is very relaxed."
It's no coincidence that in the three regular-season games the Vikings (18-4) lost, Case was sidelined with a muscle strain in her back after a collision at home plate. She had a .984 fielding percentage. "Coaches tell me all the time they've never seen range like hers," Kempski said.
Offensively, Case had 44 hits (14 for extra bases), 28 RBI and scored 26 runs. Kempski noted that in 61 at-bats, Case either drove in a run or scored 54 times. She can place hits, too. If a defense shifts, playing her to pull, Kempski said Case, a lefty batter and speedy runner, can slap the ball the other way. She's as much of a threat to boom a ball into the gap as she is to lay down a perfect bunt.
Case struck out just three times and walked four. The low number of free passes was a result of "fouling pitches off until she gets what she wants," Kempski said. "When we need her to get on, she makes sure she does that." The 5-foot-5 Case said her offseason training at The Battery indoor facility includes practice hitting pitches that aren't strikes. "You can't always count on getting a good pitch," said Case, who also has been on sectional title teams in tennis and basketball.
A 92-average student, she'll be recruited more heavily over the next year but is unsure now at what level she wants to play in college. Case said her love for the sport was born out of watching sisters Meghan, 22, and Allison, 19, when she was younger.
"I wanted to be just like girls I saw playing on TV and on our varsity team. It really became a passion of mine," said Case, whose favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Rafael Nadal.
But something else has driven her since the spring of 2011. It's the memory of one of her best friends, Molly Thomas, who died March 18, 2011, of a viral illness. Case wears Thomas' initials "MKT" on her right wristband. "I try to honor her memory every time I play. She always worked hard in everything she did," Case said. "Your whole world turns upside down (when that happens). It's heart-breaking. But my team was there for me then and has been every day since. We all look out for each other. "