The Lakeview softball program was in its third year of existence when Sarah Berg began playing on the varsity team as a freshman. As Berg hits the home stretch of her senior season, she's been enjoying a new level of personal success on the field while helping the Lakers to their best start in team history.
Already having proven herself to be one of the better players in the area after batting .444, tying for the team lead with 14 RBIs and earning All-Independent second team honors last season, Berg has found an even higher gear in 2012. Through 11 games, the Lakeview shortstop has a .590 batting average, a 0.974 slugging percentage, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases as the Lakers have gotten off to a 6-5 start to the season.
Berg and fellow senior Lyndsey Peterson, the Lakers' top pitcher and another standout hitter, have grown together to help turn the Lakers into a competitive team in the Camden Conference after the program went through a couple of rough years while gaining its footing on the area's softball landscape. With his team on pace to have its most successful season ever, Lakeview head coach Tony Johnson said Berg and Peterson have been instrumental in setting a strong foundation for Lakeview softball.
"When you start a program, there's a lot of inexperience and lack of knowledge of the game," said Johnson, who is in his second season as Lakeview's head coach and has been associated with the team for the past four years. "When you have girls who come up through a program, you obviously gain a lot of that so you can start stepping up to the next level, which I think we have.
"When you have two really good athletes like Lyndsey and Sarah to push the other girls to be successful, it gets fun."
The Lakers posted their second straight seven-win season last year, but were again unable to advance past the first round of the Section 3A playoffs. Berg doesn't want her high school career end with another first-round exit, so she put in work in the offseason to improve her skills and in turn help give her team a better chance at making a run once the postseason arrives.
One thing Berg said she did was attend a lot of Southwest Minnesota State University softball clinics, where she said she got some useful tips from first-year Mustang head coach Missy Bruggeman on how to improve her swing.
"She was a big help to me and my coach has been really focusing on hitting this season, so we've gotten a lot of reps in," Berg said. "I just feel like I've been able to anticipate where the ball is going to be and I know how to adjust my swing now because of all the teaching I've had. It's helped me become a better player."
Berg began the season going 2-for-5 with a pair of singles and an RBI in the Lakers' 10-1 season-opening win over a ranked Martin County West squad that qualified for the Class A state tournament a season ago. And the hits just kept coming from there. In the 10 games she's played this year, Berg has registered eight multi-hit games.
Berg has gone 4-for-4 on two occasions this year. The first time was a game against Yellow Medicine East on April 20 when she had a pair of triples in a 10-1 Lakeview win. The second time was on Monday when she belted a pair of homers and had eight RBIs in Game 2 of a doubleheader against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton. They were the first two home runs of her career. She went 7-for-8 in the doubleheader with a total of 10 RBIs to help power the Lakers to a sweep of the Knights.
Johnson said he has definitely noticed Berg's power increase this season, as she has racked up seven extra-base hits so far.
"She's really got a little more pop in her bat," Johnson said. "We kind of got her to lay off that pitch up around the shoulders and wait for something more down around her waist that she can really drive. She's been a lot more disciplined in the batter's box and taking better pitches to swing at."
Berg and Peterson both rank near the top of the area leaderboards in batting stats, and their hitting has become contagious. Lakeview has five players batting at or above the .320 mark and the Lakers sport a team batting average of .346.
"We've been pretty young, but our girls have been getting a lot better," Berg said. "Like (sophomore) Abby Lee has been getting really, really good.
"We're a lot more patient and a lot more confident at the plate and hitting the ball a lot more. As a captain this year, it's been really fun to see everybody contributing, which is really important, especially come playoff time because it takes a team effort."
Berg's batting numbers obviously jump out when viewing her statistics, but Johnson said her fielding is almost equally impressive. She has moved around the infield and outfield while rising up through the high school ranks and has settled in at shortstop. Johnson said he's comfortable playing her anywhere in the outfield, anywhere in the infield other than as pitcher, and even behind the plate. He said it's rare to find a player who can play all of those positions, and play them well.
Berg explained that her versatility is just a product of her love for the game.
"I have three older brothers and they've always been out and playing with me a lot," Berg said. "I've always been the type of player where I don't care where I play, just as long as I play, because I like to play so much."