Bernard's victories, love for game only grow Softball: Senior Jan Bernard's passion for the sport, and her right arm, have helped her and Old Mill through tough times.

April 13, 1997|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN STAFF

Jen Bernard walks off the softball field at Old Mill after pitching another spectacular game and a young admirer says, "Hey, Jen Bernard, will you teach me how to throw a curve?"

"Sure," says Bernard with a lot of enthusiasm in her voice.

The next day, Bernard walks down a hall at Old Mill, and many of her classmates say, "I read about you in the paper today."

The senior right-hander smiles and feels good about her accomplishments for the Patriots in a standout four-year career that is heading into the home stretch.

In 291 2/3 innings to date, Bernard has struck out 314 hitters, walked 49, compiled a 1.51 ERA, pitched one no-hitter and four three-hitters, produced nine shutouts and a 24-17 record.

Even more important than the glowing stats is the obvious love for the game this pitcher displays.

That love has endeared her to softball fans throughout the county and has carried her through the tough times in a softball program that doesn't feature much hitting and doesn't attract many select-team or summer-ball players.

But that image was tested severely over the past week in costly losses to fourth-ranked Chesapeake and ninth-ranked North County, when Bernard's defense deserted her at times.

The Chesapeake setback by a 6-3 score was especially hard to take, because Bernard allowed just one earned run on a day that three errors led to five runs.

Another test came just three days after it looked as if Bernard just might be able to carry the Patriots to greater heights this season with her iron-man pitching -- an 11-inning, 1-0 shutout win over longtime nemesis Glen Burnie.

"This team just didn't show up to play against Chesapeake, and the same was true in the North County game," said an extremely disappointed Bernard of the third-ranked Patriots, who dropped to 4-4 with the two losses in three days.

"Every game, I give all I got, because I want to win every game. I have a passion for the game and am out there pitching my heart out. It's the most important thing in my life.

"I think a lot of girls on my team are playing just for something to do. I want to play as long as I can and then be a college coach. I want to coach in college because I can recruit players. In high school, you have to take what you get. It would be great to get paid for coaching a sport I love."

Next year, Bernard will be pitching for Campbell (N.C.) University on a "99 percent scholarship" and is looking forward to playing in the warmer weather in the South.

"I also like the way everybody gets along on the Campbell team," she said. "That is a must for any team to be successful. The players down there are also kicked back, and I like that."

The road to Campbell began for Bernard as a 10-year-old who was the only girl playing baseball against boys in the Harundale Youth Sports League. She was a pitcher and shortstop and made the All-Star team, which advanced all the way to Puerto Rico for a 10-and-under world series.

One of the other players on that All-Star team was Mike Ziegler, now the top pitcher on Old Mill's baseball team.

"I never really thought about how Mike and I both went on to be the best on our high school teams," said Bernard, whose seven pitches include a fastball, curve, screwball, rise ball, drop ball, knuckleball and drop curve. "Those days seem so far away. But I have to believe that a lot of my drive and desire for the game came from playing against boys."

One thing she will never forget about those youth league baseball days is "the moms from the other teams yelling for me to strike out their sons."

"I was a tomboy and I don't think the fathers cared much for me playing, but the mothers were all for me," said Bernard.

But she gave up baseball for softball at the age of 11 when the "guys were getting bigger and stronger and I was staying the same size."

Three years later, Old Mill coach Lori Darnall took one look at Bernard in practice and knew she had a gem.

"The first thing about her was the speed she had on the ball, and she had control, and the ball moved," said Darnall. "The next question was, 'Could she do it under pressure and know what pitches to throw?' Obviously, she could because of her vast background in summer ball."

Asked when she realized she was going to be something special as a player, Bernard replied: "I never thought of it as being special, because I'm just doing something I love."

Pub Date: 4/13/97

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