Prep Softball

Benton's Shelby Hulsebus is prolific, without the power

State softball: Bobcats' speedy leadoff hitter leads the state at .654

Benton Community’s Shelby Hulsebus during practice on Wednesday. Hulsebus leads the state in hitting, at .654. The Bobcats face Davenport Assumption in a Class 3A state quarterfinal Monday at Fort Dodge. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Benton Community’s Shelby Hulsebus during practice on Wednesday. Hulsebus leads the state in hitting, at .654. The Bobcats face Davenport Assumption in a Class 3A state quarterfinal Monday at Fort Dodge. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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VAN HORNE — Despite her speed, Shelby Hulsebus was never a 100-meter burner in track and field.

“I don’t know why,” she said. “I was better at 200s and 400s. I was just kind of slow out of the blocks.”

Slow out of the blocks. Fast out of the box. Sixty feet, that’s a good distance for Hulsebus.

That’s the distance between home plate and first base on a softball diamond. And when Hulsebus, a recent graduate of Benton Community High School, gets a slap bunt down where she wants it, the likelihood of throwing her out ranges somewhere from difficult to impossible.

“She started the year with the mindset that she was going to power-slap and hit it past people, and she got herself out,” Bobcats Coach Eric Stenberg said. “The more she can deaden the ball, the better chance she’ll beat it out.”

Hulsebus leads the state — that’s all batters, all classes — in hitting this season at .654, a mark that ranks third-best in a season in state history.

Her 89 hits (in 136 at bats) are seventh-most of the current era, in which teams played a maximum of 40 regular-season games. That era began in 2008. The most is 94 hits, by Aleena Marcucci of Northeast, in 2016.

Not that Hulsebus is keeping track.

“Honestly, I don’t look at my stats much, she said. “Sometimes it freaks me out.”

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Hulsebus can add to her hits total this week. The Bobcats (27-14) face top-ranked, defending-champion Davenport Assumption (36-3) in a Class 3A quarterfinal at the state tournament at 7 p.m. Monday at the Rogers Sports Complex, Fort Dodge.

It’s the Bobcats’ third state appearance in Hulsebus’ five years as a starting outfielder and all-around pest on the bases.

The summit came in 2016, when Benton rolled to a 43-2 record and a 3A state title. That team was headlined by the pitching of Amber Fiser (now at the University of Minnesota) and the slugging of Alyssa Wiebel (Illinois State).

And while a good share of the attention has shifted to Angie Gorkow and Grace Martensen, Hulsebus is the sparkplug that ignites the Bobcats. She has scored 67 runs and stolen 41 bases (in 42 tries) out of the leadoff slot.

“The big RBI totals, the big home-run hitters, the pitchers ... they’re the ones that get the headlines,” Stenberg said. “But she’s been something special. She’s going to be impossible to replace.”

When Hulsebus joined the varsity as an eighth-grader, she would slap from the left-handed batter’s box until there were two strikes, then move to the righty box and swing away.

She batted .360 that year and had her first — and only — career home run. Not a bad start for a rookie, but it was apparent that her identity would be as a speedster, not a slugger.

So she began taking lessons from Gayle Blevins, former Iowa softball coach, about the art of slapping.

“She taught me everything,” Hulsebus said.

Blevins taught. Hulsebus learned, and improved.

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Her average climbed to .427 as a freshman, dipped a bit to .400 in the championship season, rose to .473, then jumped to .654 this summer.

Her 89 hits have consisted of 88 singles and a triple.

“She works extremely hard. She’s very coachable,” Stenberg said. “Anything you tell her to work on, she’ll perfect it.”

At first, her strategy was simple: “When she was a freshman, she would just try to go up there and make contact and put the ball in play,” Stenberg said. But in time, she began reading defenses and adjusting to their schemes.

Here’s how it works, in Hulsebus’ words:

“The first thing I look for, is anybody playing up? The first baseman or third baseman, is she close to the base? If she is, I know I can probably drop a bunt and beat it out.

“If I see they are up, I check the shortstop and see if she is deep. If she is, I can throw a soft slap in that area.”

Once the ball is down, odds are good that Hulsebus will beat the throw to first base.

Dan Gratz, former Cedar Rapids Kennedy coach now at North Iowa Area Community College, said an effective slapper can get to first base “between 2.75 and 2.85 seconds” after the bat hits the ball.

Hulsebus, who will play next year at Kirkwood Community College, was clocked three times at practice Wednesday. Her first 60-foot foray took 2.85 seconds, then 2.68, then 2.56.

Yeah, she can scoot.

Unlike the Bobcats’ most recent state voyage, they head to Fort Dodge as considerable underdogs. Assumption’s last defeat to a 3A opponent was Benton’s 8-0 romp in the 2016 championship game.

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“We’re going to have to execute well, play good defense. I think we’re capable,” Stenberg said. “Our talent level, we can compete with anybody in the state.”

TOP BATTING AVERAGES IN A SEASON (all-time), 100 ABs minimum

Macy Johnson, Winterset, .674 (91 of 135), 2016

Brittney Roby, Twin Cedars, .655 (78 of 119), 2012

Shelby Hulsebus, Benton Community, .654 (89 of 136), 2018

Nicole Shutt, Martensdale-St Marys, .640 (71 of 111), 2013

Dani Stipe, Carroll Kuemper, .636 (117 of 184), 2005

Brittney Roby, Twin Cedars, .634 (71 of 112), 2013

Lea Twigg, North Scott, .632 (110 of 174), 1993

Riley Hale, West Burlington, .630 (68 of 108), 2015

MOST HITS IN A SEASON (40-game regular-season era, 2008-present)

Aleenah Marcucci, Northeast 94 (2016)

Fran Strub, Clear Creek Amana 92 (2011)

Macy Johnson, Winterset, 91 (2016)

Caitlin Wnek, Clear Creek Amana 90 (2011)

Emily Ira, Solon 90 (2015)

Sydney Lawson, Solon 90 (2015)

Shelby Hulsebus, Benton Community, 89 (2018)

Mallory Madsen, Solon 88 (2013)

l Comments: (319) 368-8857; jeff.linder@thegazette.com

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