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WARRIORS ATHLETE OF WEEK Ace pitcher becomes heavy hitter

Unless you’ve been living in Afghanistan you may have heard that Nikki Anderson is a pretty fine pitcher for the Brainerd Warriors fast-pitch softball team.

She signed with the University of Minnesota in the fall after leading Brainerd to two Class 3A state tournaments and compiling eye-popping stats the past three years — school records for wins (51), strikeouts (547) and ERA (0.724).

Entering this season she had allowed just 165 hits in 374.2 innings, issued just 39 walks and tossed 24 shutouts.

This spring Anderson is pitching as well as she has the past three years but she’s also developed into a threat at bat. After virtually never hitting her first three years, Anderson is the team’s second-leading hitter (.419) with three doubles and 10 RBIs in the cleanup spot.

“That’s been really exciting for me,” Anderson said of her hitting. “My first year I had a terrible swing. (Assistant) coach (Dan) Bzdok, since year one, has worked so hard with me on it. He told me I could be a hitter. ... I’m really glad I can help at the plate now and be a hitter.”

Warriors head coach Mike Zauhar said Anderson’s improvement at the plate has been noticeable.

“She’s just hitting the ball a ton,” he said. “She’s been a real force for us, getting big hits. She’s filled a hole in our batting order. We have a lot of confidence in her when she comes to the plate. She’s gotten some big hits.”

In addition, Anderson has been her dominant, reliable self on the mound. In 80-plus innings, she has allowed just 34 hits and 15 runs, 10 earned, with only seven walks. She has struck out 127 with three shutouts and 11 complete games. She is 13-1 with a 0.875 ERA.

Last week she one-hit Bemidji and struck out 12 in a 3-1 win. Against Rocori on Tuesday, she fired a no-hitter with no walks and 14 strikeouts in a 7-0 victory.

Zauhar said Anderson’s consistency has been evident from Day One.

“She’s the same old Nikki,” he said. “Day in and day out, she’s just throwing strikes. What I love about it is her walks are low. She always keeps us in games. We figure if we can score 3-4 runs we’ve got a good chance to win a ballgame.”

Anderson throws six pitches, including a fastball, drop, curve, offspeed drop, change, and rise. And, she’s not afraid to pitch inside — she has hit 14 batters.

“Pitching inside, girls are trying to get their hands out quicker, and a lot of them want to protect their hands,” she said. “My mentality with pitching inside is if they have to hit inside pitches they’re not going to get good at bats. I want them to hit slow rollers to my infielders so they can throw them out.”

In Anderson’s 3-plus years, Brainerd has won 71 of 84 games (.845), two Central Lakes Conference and two section championships, and made two trips to state.

“It has gone by so fast,” Anderson said of her high school career. “I’m really sad to be closing this chapter in my life, but I’m excited to be opening a new one.”

Zauhar said the Warriors have had some “dandy” pitchers through the years but Anderson is by far the best.

“We would not have had the success we’ve had over the last four years if not for Nikki Anderson,” he said. “We feel very fortunate to have had her.”

Other notable efforts:

• Jackson Walters, boys track and field, broke a 42-year-old school record in the 110 hurdles as he won at the Wayzata Relays.

• Lenka Zelinska, tennis, is 10-1 in singles.

• Jared Stearns, tennis, is 10-1 in doubles.