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Versatile Neidigh powers Broncos' attack

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

Jessica Neidigh laughs when she recalls how she began swinging the softball bat right-handed.

A natural lefty, she switched to the other side of the plate at a young age because during coach-pitch, her then-coach struggled to pitch to a left-hander.

"I don't even know why (the coach) couldn't pitch to a lefty," Neidigh said.

Whatever the rationale, Neidigh remained a right-hander as she climbed the ranks of fastpitch softball. She was a righty as a Brookwood freshman, but then she began a transition to her more natural left side, partly to work on becoming more of a threat as a slap hitter.

The change went pretty well. She hit .336 as a sophomore, then set Bronco season records for batting average (.442) and hits (46) in 2009. She's hitting .364 this season with a .517 on-base percentage.

"She's completely changed over now, everything's left-handed," Brookwood softball coach Bill Batchelor said of his senior standout.

"It feels natural now to be a lefty," said Neidigh, a college prospect who is considering her options and hopes to make a decision soon. "I couldn't go back to right-handed. It would just feel weird."

Neidigh also has become a very versatile hitter from the left side, assembling an repertoire with a variety of ways to attack a defense. The speedster has begun working with Brittany Rogers -- a Dacula grad and former Alabama All-American -- on her slapping and also can be a dangerous bunter. But she also has the power to swing away, resulting in nine doubles and three triples last season.

She gauges what to do with each at-bat as Batchelor gives her freedom at the plate.

"(Batchelor) just lets me read the defense," Neidigh said. "If they're playing back, then I'll slap. If they're playing in, I hit away. He just lets me read the defense and then I decide.

"I like to keep the defenses off balance because they don't know what I'm going to do. And I can bunt the ball also so they don't know where to play me."

The improved slapping has become another element for an already dangerous hitter and baserunner.

"And the thing I think she's improved the most is her power," Batchelor said. "She's not a home run hitter, but she just hits the ball extremely hard."

And don't get Batchelor going on her defense.

Neidigh played some outfield as a freshman and became the Broncos' starting third baseman as a sophomore. When the previous shortstop graduated, she stepped into that position, the one she prefers.

"I see her as a shortstop in college," Batchelor said. "She gets to balls you wouldn't believe and her arm is so strong. And she's in the dirt all the time. She's going to try to get to every ball. And she makes the difficult balls look routine."

Though she stopped pitching lessons years ago, Neidigh also pitches at times for the Broncos, though her role there has declined. Batchelor still expects her to pitch here and there, but that's not where the team truly counts on Neidigh, who joins Rachel Rhodes and Michelle Ramos as Brookwood's only seniors.

They need her left-handed bat to spark the offense.

"She has all the tools, she can run, throw, hit for power, slap," Batchelor said. "We go as she goes, no doubt."