Outsiders have to look past Lynden pitcher Brooke Bonsen's raw pitching abilities to truly understand what's made her so successful the last two years.
It's not the speed of her pitches. It's not her dominating presence in the circle, either.
Even Bonsen's coach Steve Petersen hasn't quite solved her after six years of coaching the Lynden senior.
"I get that asked a lot," said Petersen when questioned how Bonsen has been as dominant as she has. "People she plays against will ask about her success, and I can't quantify her yet. She is kind of like a Greg Maddux, but not really."
What Bonsen has done during her two-year reign as the top pitcher in Whatcom County is to do what she has been asked. That's throwing strikes, limiting walks, pitching to contact and letting a strong defense behind her take care of the rest. She could be equated to a system quarterback in football, a player who's asked to play a certain way for the betterment of the team.
The results have been astounding.
In two years Bonsen's put together a 38-10 record with a 1.84 ERA. She's struck out 244 batters while walking only 34. She had 19 wins, a 1.79 ERA, 138 strikeouts and 15 walks this season.
Bonsen, who also guided the Lions to a Northwest Conference title, a district title - their first since 1993 - and a Class 2A State Tournament semifinals appearance, has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Softball Player of the Year.
"I guess the game is pretty boring if the pitcher is doing all the work," Bonsen said in a phone interview. "I just try to pitch around the plate and get ahead in the count right away. I try to make them hit bad I guess and make them hit weak."
While Bonsen's embraced a pitching style calling for her to paint corners and let batters put the ball in play, that doesn't mean she couldn't pile up strikeouts.
"I really believe if you needed Brooke to get 10 strikeouts a game, she could figure out a way to get you close," said Petersen.
Bonsen, who's always done what's asked of her, agreed.
"I think so," she said. "If someone tells me, 'You're going to do this,' I'm going to go for it. It gives me a little motivation to go out and do it."
But making opposing teams hit creates the necessity for a strong defense, and Bonsen was backed by a ball-snagging, ground ball-stopping, strong-arm throwing group. The Lions infield, which included regular starters Tanna Benson at third, Kaitlyn Brown at short, Trisha Snydar at second, Jenna Bonsen at first and Mandy Warner behind the plate, rarely gave teams extra opportunities.
And the group fed of Bonsen's confidence.
Petersen has seen his ace's coolness in the circle grow since she first threw as a sophomore. In fact, the Lynden coach recalls the game when Bonsen's confidence blossomed.
"It was a district game a couple of years ago in a loser-out game against Sehome," Petersen explained. "They were hitting the ball well, and we were down 4-0 when she came in. All she did was get outs and since that game she has just gone out and gets you outs."
Bonsen has developed an unwavering, even-keeled attitude even the best stone-cold, poker-faced player would be proud of. Petersen considers her unchanging attitude as arguably Bonsen's top attribute.
"She is absolutely unflappable," he said.
And he pointed to one of Lynden's biggest games of the year to prove it. Leading 2-0 in the top of the seventh against Sedro-Woolley in a winner-to-state district tournament game, Bonsen gave up a grand slam. Instead of dropping her head and demoralizing her team, she battled back to get retire the side, limiting additional damage against the Cubs' No. 3, 4 and 5 hitters. Benson drove in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh, which led to a district title two nights later.
Bonsen's level-headedness was displayed again during the state tournament. Lynden succumbed to the dreaded two-and-out last year, and Bonsen stayed afterwards to watch other teams play, Petersen said.
She was more prepared the second time around.
"This time out our goal was to make it to the second day of state," Bonsen said. "That's definitely a goal we wanted. We won the first two games, and our game against Aberdeen was our best game of the year. We didn't get a trophy, but we made our goal, so we didn't take it too hard."
What gets lost in Bonsen's softball talent is her hitting ability. Helping herself out at the plate ultimately helps her out in the circle.
Bonsen hit for a .469 average with an on-base percentage of .530 batting out of the clean-up spot. She also recorded 31 RBI, nine doubles, a triple and a home run.
Bellevue Community College, where Bonsen's headed to play next spring, will benefit from the Lynden senior's ability to both pitch and hit. To Petersen, though, fittingly, it's another non-measurable that projects Bonsen will have success in college.
"She is the ultimate teammate," Petersen said. "She has developed that toughness, and she is a tough, competitive kid."
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY SOFTBALL PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2013: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
2012: Brooke Bonsen, Lynden
2011: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2010: Austin Wilkerson, Sehome
2009: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2008: Erika Ramstead, Nooksack Valley
2007: Sydney Qualey, Ferndale
2006: Suni Dillard, Nooksack Valley
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.