Softball Player Of The Year: Morgan Bienkowski
At one time, not too long ago, Morgan Bienkowski was just another high school freshman.
“I was kind of intimidated,” said Bienkowski, reliving her first softball practices with Holy Redeemer. “When I walked on the field, we had some big players … players that were a lot better than me at the time and I was quite intimidated.”
Then, she learned from those players. She got better. She made friends. She won championships.
Bienkowski hopes to do it all over again starting in August, when she reports to Binghamton University to study and play NCAA Division I softball.
Bienkowski graduated from Redeemer with one of the most impressive resumes ever compiled by a softball player in the Wyoming Valley Conference.
The right-hander had a career 44-2 record and 0.62 ERA, as well as 643 strikeouts in 338 innings pitched.
Along the way, Bienkowski and the Royals won four straight WVC division championships, three district titles, back-to-back PIAA championships in 2015 and 2016, and this year’s silver medal in the state final.
This past season, Bienkowski went 18-1 with a 0.50 ERA and 290 strikeouts — racking up Ks at a rate of more than two per inning.
No slouch at the plate, either, Bienkowski hit .407 with team-highs in hits (33) and doubles (12). She also crushed five home runs.
The daughter of Ed and Nikki Bienkowski of Nanticoke, Morgan Bienkowski is an irreplaceable player in Redeemer’s young, but rich, softball history.
After sharing the honor with Redeemer graduate Kristen Coffay in 2016, Bienkowski went out on top as The Citizens’ Voice Player of the Year.
She recently spoke with softball beat writer Matt Bufano, who covered all the big moments on the diamond during Bienkowski’s four years.
Q: You played a lot of travel softball before Holy Redeemer. How did that circuit prepare you for high school softball?
A: Well, I actually played travel softball when I was younger with the Wyoming Valley Vipers. But I made the transition to play in New York in seventh-grade year to get recruited for college. We played in California in these big tournaments against girls going to Big Ten schools and playing against girls that were a lot better than me. It made me work a lot harder. Playing against girls that were a lot better than me made me work a lot harder. It was great.
Q: What sort of pitches are in your repertoire, and when did you start throwing each of them?
A: Pitches have come and gone throughout the years. Right now, my go-to pitches are the rise ball, screwball and curveball. But I do have a drop, drop-change and a changeup that’s not the greatest. At times, it is. But (in the PIAA championship game), it was not good at all.
Q: The fastball was the first pitch you learned to throw, correct?
A: I started off with a fastball when I was younger. That was the only thing I threw. I learned to throw a changeup and drop when I was about 10. Then you learn spin pitches as you master the previous pitches. Then I learned screw, curve and rise ball. As you get more pitches in your arsenal, you use the fastball less. I think I used the fastball about three times a game.
Q: There’s been some rumblings about the PIAA voting on a pitch count in softball. Do you have any opinion on that?
A: Honestly, I think a pitch count would be an awful idea for softball. Baseball, it’s understandable because of its unnatural motion. But our games are so spaced out. The most we played was three games in a week. I had time to recuperate. I don’t think it’s quite necessary, especially for teams like ours that have only one pitcher they could really work with.
Q: Other than the state championships, what is your favorite memory from playing at Redeemer?
A: The district championship my freshman year is the best memory. It stood out because I think it was my first major achievement as a softball player at Holy Redeemer High School with a great team.
Q: Did you feel any pressure in your later high school years, because you had such a great start as a freshman?
A: I want to say my freshman year was probably my best year. Going on, I felt like we had to keep a tradition of winning state titles and having great teams. But I did not feel any added pressure.
Q: What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received as a softball player?
A: I’ve actually received a lot of great compliments from people, not one specifically. A lot of people have supported me throughout the years, especially (head coach) Jerry (Paulukonis), JB (assistant coach John Bryan) and our coaches. Jerry has made numerous comments in articles about how I’m a special player, one-in-a-million to cross by and it’s nice to hear things like that.
Q: Holy Redeemer seems to have had more trouble, at times, making it through districts than states. What’s your impression on the state of local softball?
A: Local softball has been fantastic. Even the Wyoming Valley Conference, we faced a lot of good teams such as Hanover and Seminary. We have a lot of talent. I’m not saying that other areas don’t have talent, but they don’t have as much as we do. It’s taking off in the area, which is great, because we have a lot of competition.
Q: If you could summarize the last four years in just a few thoughts, what would it be?
A: Definitely the four best years of my life.
Contact the writer:
570-821-2060; @CVBufano on Twitter