MALTA — Lauren Kersch played a big role in the Ballston Spa softball team's run to the state Class AA championship game last spring, but it wasn't with her arm or with a bat in her hands.
"She's got a coach's mentality for the game. She's been around it a long time," Scotties coach Amanda Fifield said of Kersch, a junior and four-year varsity team member. "She pushed the others, and when she saw something from the dugout, she'd let people know. It was a huge role."
It wasn't the role Kersch envisioned after her mound work as a freshman helped Ballston Spa reach the Section II title game. She was anticipating an even bigger sophomore year, but that aim ended in the preseason when she sustained a serious knee injury during an indoor base-running drill.
Kersch returned to the mound Wednesday for Ballston Spa's opener and hurled a two-hitter in a 4-0 win against Shaker — the team that beat her and her teammates 5-2 in the 2017 sectional final.
"It feels great to be back in the circle," Kersch said.
Then-senior Sarah Pritchard held down that position last season when Ballston Spa put together a superb playoff run that included wins against Columbia in the Section II final, Cicero-North Syracuse in the state quarterfinals and East Meadow in the state semifinals before a title-game loss to Victor.
"She [Pritchard] was going to play first base," Kersch said. "I told her, 'This is your job now,' and she worked her butt off. I give her a lot of credit."
Kersch was there for all of the Scotties.
"It was tough to watch, but I told myself I wasn't going to be all mad," Kersch said. "I would be that extra set of eyes to see the little things. I needed to be there for my team and help us get to states and win it. That was the goal. It's still the goal."
Kersch played second base and was a reserve pitcher as an eighth-grader in 2016 (her sister Ashlyn was the No. 1 pitcher) when Ballston Spa won its first Section II and regional titles before a state semifinal setback.
"She is out for some unfinished business," Fifield said.
Kersch tore the medial patellofemoral ligament in her left knee during that base-running drill and had surgery afterward. As part of the complex network of soft tissues that stabilizes the knee, the medial patellofemoral ligament attaches the inside part of the kneecap to the long bone of the thigh.
"I had dislocated my knee before, but I knew it wasn't good. I definitely could feel it," the 17-year-old Kersch said of her injury, before adding: "I sat out the summer and worked on things I could. In July I was back, but it wasn't until November that I was really back."
"I have played with her for 10 years and she is such a hard worker," Ballston Spa sophomore shortstop Ana Gold said of her teammate. "She did everything she could to get back to what she loves doing."
Kersch struck out seven Wednesday, and had two hits, including an RBI double. In Friday's 11-6 win at Guilderland she picked up five strikeouts, scattered nine hits and rapped out three singles.