Midland pitcher Jaylee Hinrichs returned to the diamond, and both school and ace reap rewards

“If you’re not doing what you love, there’s no point in doing it, I guess,” Jaylee Hinrichs said.

Jaylee Hinrichs has helped change the direction of Midland’s program the past two years.

The way she looks at it, though, the university has done just as much for her.

“I wouldn’t be who I am without it,” the All-Nebraska pitcher from Lincoln Southeast said. “Coming to Midland has changed me in a lot of ways, continuing to grow as a person and as a player. I can’t thank Midland enough.”

Hinrichs found a home at Midland, but it took her awhile to arrive there.

As a freshman at UNO, she earned 12 wins for a 22-28 team in 2015. But before the next season, Hinrichs lost her desire to play. She said she was burned out.

So Hinrichs went back to Lincoln and enrolled at Southeast Community College.

“I thought I’d never pick up a ball again,” Hinrichs said. “I had no intentions of playing again, but when (Mike Heard) reached out to me, I got to the point where if I was ever going to play again, that’s who I was going to play for.”

Heard has been the Warriors’ coach since 2015. Growing up, Hinrichs played on Heard’s club team, which had success on the national level.

“Over some time, I think she started missing the game,” Heard said.

So Hinrichs decided to give softball another try. She redshirted at Midland in 2017, when the Warriors went 18-24.

Then with Hinrichs as the team’s primary pitcher last year, Midland won 36 games and qualified for the NAIA tournament. Hinrichs finished 23-11 with a 2.00 ERA and a school-record 317 strikeouts in 223 innings.

And her passion for the game was back.

“On the field, it’s like I fell back in love with the game,” Hinrichs said. “If you’re not doing what you love, there’s no point in doing it, I guess.”

Hinrichs’ numbers have been even better as a senior. She’s 22-6 with a 1.21 ERA while holding opponents to a .138 average. In 162 innings, she has 275 strikeouts and 29 walks.

When Midland needed to beat Northwestern on the final day of the regular season to win the GPAC title, Hinrichs struck out 19 and allowed five hits in a 6-2 victory. She has recorded double-digit strikeouts 15 times this season.

“Jaylee’s just a better pitcher,” said Heard, comparing her senior season to her junior year. “She’s getting ahead of hitters, limiting walks, she’s added a drop curveball. She’s doing the little things to become a better pitcher.”

Hinrichs, who graduated Saturday with a degree in human services, gets to pitch in the NAIA tournament again.

The Warriors (31-10) open bracket play in Springfield, Missouri, against Baker at 11 a.m. Monday. Midland’s bracket also includes unbeaten Marian (Ind.), ranked second nationally.

Heard said many of his key contributors were on last year’s team that played in the tournament.

“I think they’re more mature,” Heard said. “That extra year of going through the ups and downs and everything involved with a season, you grow from it.”

While Hinrichs was the GPAC pitcher of the year, Katlin Anders was the conference’s player of the year. The junior hit .530 and also led the team in homers, RBIs, runs and stolen bases.

“She’s a beast, to be honest with you. She is just so good,” Heard said. “Typically hitters all will have some sort of slump or adversity they go through, but she’s so consistent and good at what she does. It comes from her work ethic.”

Also in the tournament is Bellevue (44-18), which will be in Dodge City, Kansas. The Bruins’ bracket includes top-ranked Science & Arts (Okla.).

Bellevue earned an at-large berth after losing to Valley City State in the North Star tournament. Before that, the Bruins had won 14 straight.

Bellevue is led by third baseman Erin Sharpe, who is hitting .400 with 25 homers — and 78 home runs in her career, second in NAIA history. She also has seven wins as a pitcher this season.

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BELLEVUE

First round: Monday in Dodge City, Kan.

Coach: Michala Cimino

Record: 44-18

Top hitters: Erin Sharpe (.400, 25 HR, 60 RBI); Ellie Bliemeister (.380, 11 HR, 60 R); Katlyn Kinman (.321, 5 HR, 34 RBI)

Top pitchers: Monique Ashley (19-8, 2.30 ERA, 155 K); Brienna Brock (13-3, 3.03 ERA); Erin Sharpe (7-4, 3.00)

About the Bruins: Sharpe has 78 career home runs, second-most in NAIA history. ... Bellevue, making its seventh NAIA appearance in 10 years, earned an at-large bid after finishing runner-up in the North Star regular season and tournament.

MIDLAND

First round: Monday in Springfield, Mo.

Coach: Mike Heard

Record: 31-10

Top hitters: Katlin Anders (.530, 11 HR, 40 RBI); Sierra Athow (.435, 5 HR, 37 RBI); Angela Brazil (.375, 7 HR, 34 RBI)

Top pitchers: Jaylee Hinrichs (22-6, 1.21 ERA, 275 K); Hailee Fliam (7-4, 3.24 ERA)

About the Warriors: Midland advanced to the NAIAs by winning the GPAC regular season. Anders was the conference’s player of the year, Hinrichs was the conference’s pitcher of the year. ... Midland has a team batting average of .332 and a team ERA of 1.95.