NASHVILLE — Maci Ingram struck out so many batters this season -- 409 in 200 innings pitched -- that Nashville coach Dempsey Witte made his team take extra infield practice after a few games because he feared their fielding was getting rusty.
"It's just such an asset to have a strike-out pitcher," Witte said. "In big games, sometimes you just need a strikeout. We felt like we could get that all time. It is nice for the defense, but sometimes I was worried about our defense not getting enough reps.
"Sometimes Maci would get 16-17-18 strikeouts, and I'm like, 'Man, our defense didn't get much work, so we have to get some extra ground balls.' That is a great problem to have. I think every coach would take that problem."
Ingram is the Belleville News-Democrat's Class 1A-2A Softball Player of the Year. She edged out Dupo freshman pitcher Megan Brown in voting by metro-east coaches.
Ingram maintained the Hornettes' stranglehold on the award. Former Nashville first baseman-pitcher Shaye Harre won the award in 2013 and shared it in both 2012 and 2011.
Ingram, a junior, had a 28-3 record with a 0.63 ERA.
"It's definitely nice knowing that we are going to be close with anybody with her on the mound," Witte said. "It takes a little pressure off our offense, I think, knowing that we don't have to score too many to have a chance to win."
Ingram walked only 14 batters.
"She attacks the zone and she has a lot of movement," Witte said. "She makes somebody earn it if they are going to get on base. I think a big key to her success is that her control is phenomenal."
Ingram is only 11 strikeouts shy of breaking Amy Harre's school record of 1,002 career strikeouts.
"Her dad actually worked for my dad at the post office, and Amy gave me one of my first pitching lessons," Ingram said of Harre, a 2001 Nashville High graduate who starred at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and later played professionally. "We've stayed in touch. She was a great teacher, a great pitcher and I always looked up to her."
Ingram is the daughter of Mary and Randy Ingram, of Nashville. Her family moved from Centralia to Nashville after she graduated from fifth grade. She fell in love with softball after playing basketball on a youth team as the lone girl among boys.
"It was just a little rec center thing," Ingram said. "I've never been afraid to go out there and play, but nobody would pass me the ball because I was a girl."
Ingram started out as an outfielder in softball, but she yearned for more of an impact.
"I always got stuck in the outfield, and when you are 10 years old, there are not a whole lot of balls being hit to the outfield," Ingram said. "I wanted to be more in the action, and my dad just asked me, 'What do you want to do and we'll work on it.' I said, 'I want to pitch.'
"We just started going out into the backyard and throwing 100 pitches every day."
Ingram burst onto the high school softball scene late in her freshman season after Shaye Harre went down with an injury.
"Shaye dove for a ball and tweaked her back," Witte said. "We were playing Du Quoin, and Du Quoin was absolutely loaded. They were one of the top teams in the state. We gave Maci a shot, and she went down there and mowed them down. I think that was kind of the turning point for her."
"That game was pretty intense," Ingram said. "People tell me I don't show a lot of emotion, but I was absolutely scared to death."
Ingram ended up pitching the Hornettes to the Class 2A state championship as a freshman.
The Hornettes placed third with Ingram on the mound in 2013 and they advanced to the sectional before losing 3-2 to Carterville this season.
Ingram, who has given a verbal commitment to McKendree University, was one of five Hornettes players on the first team. She was joined by second baseman Jordi Harre, shortstop Kiley Pelker, third baseman Hannah Yung and outfielders Emily Thompson.
The Hornettes will lose six seniors to graduation. Ingram, Jordi Harre and Thompson and Daley Buchanan will return next season.
"We're losing six really, really good seniors who won a lot of games here," Witte said. "Like Kiley Pelker, she started every single game during her four years. She had 134 wins. I would like to see how many girls have started in 134 wins.
"It'll be a totally different look next year. We won't have the same power. We're hoping with Jordi's speed and Emily's speed, they can get on base. And, when you have Maci, you feel like you have a chance."
Dupo's Greg Pennock, who guided his squad to a 30-7 record and a sectional title, is the Class 1A-2A Coach of the Year.
The Tigers return almost their entire squad next season.
Dupo was sent north for the postseason by the Illinois High School Association this year, averting a potential regional or sectional matchup with the Hornettes in the south.
"Dupo is going to be a force for a while," Witte said. "It'll be interesting to see how the IHSA does that next year with Dupo.
"If they go that way again or if they go to a regional down here. I don't know what will happen. We'll have to see how it plays out."
Dupo, New Athens and Carlyle each had two players on the first team.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.