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Country Day softball star focuses on the game

When Sammy Berenter’s older sister became a pitcher, the younger of the two sisters instead gravitated toward shortstop. When her older sibling became a power hitter who drove softballs over outfield fences all over San Diego County, Berenter adopted a line-drive approach that resulted in singles, doubles and a high batting average.

Berenter never wanted to live in the shadows of her older sister’s success, and given what she is doing for La Jolla Country Day’s softball team, it is clear she has accomplished that goal.

Berenter, a junior shortstop for the Torreys, has made a name all for herself, even as people on campus at Country Day still remember the exploits of Ally Berenter, now a freshman at Emory University near Atlanta.

“Seeing her do so well and go to college to play softball really gave me something to work for,” Sammy Berenter said. “I knew I wanted to, and watching her go through the process helped me and made me realize that’s what I really wanted to do.

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“Having her there made me want to work hard, but it also gave me the support system in that I could talk to her about everything.”

Berenter entered May hitting .667 with 10 extra-base hits, 12 RBIs and 13 runs scored in nine games this season. On top of that, she owned a .727 on-base percentage and had made just one error in 36 chances while fielding one of the most difficult positions on the diamond.

She had helped a team with few veteran players to a 4-5 record and a 1-1 mark in the Coastal League South. And Berenter reached another personal milestone in early March, when she made a verbal commitment to play softball for Indiana University, she said. She can sign a national letter of intent, a binding commitment, in the fall.

Berenter has distinguished herself from the start of her softball career, always managing to make her own way without sticking too close to her sister’s path. As a youngster, she played catcher, but when a club team she joined just before entering high school was in need of a middle infielder, she moved to shortstop, and her quick feet, strong arm and fast release have made her well-suited to the position.

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She is also somewhat fleet afoot, and her ability to hit the ball hard to all fields has allowed her to become an on-base machine.

But Berenter is more than a natural talent. While her innate ability is partially responsible for making her a high-level high school player, she has improved to the point where she is a major college prospect through dedication to the craft.

A three-sport athlete during her first two years at Country Day - she played golf in the fall and soccer in the winter - Berenter dropped both those sports this year in order to focus on softball.

She plays nearly year round with her club team, the Encinitas-based San Diego Breakers, and spends three hours a week working with separate personal coaches for hitting, fielding and speed work.

“I don’t think it ever really wears me down,” Berenter said. “Going into high school, I wanted to play a different sport each season, but coming into this year, I knew that if I wanted to play softball at a big Division I school, I would really need to dedicate myself. So I decided not to play the golf and the soccer. That was tough, but I knew I needed to work hard.”

Berenter has been coached for a number of years on her club teams by her father, Jay Berenter, who is the co-head coach of the Torreys this year along with Corinne Brunn.

He has seen steady improvement in his shortstop since she entered high school.

“She’s really picked up her game in the field,” he said. “She used to be a better hitter than fielder, I would say, but now she’s kind of caught up. She’s a pretty good fielder now, and I think that’s what makes her stand out.”

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Sammy Berenter isn’t naive enough to think that she can just walk into college and continue to play at the same level she has throughout high school. She knows that everyone in the Big-10 Conference was probably a star at her own high school, and that she needs to continue to improve.

Given the motivation and dedication she has shown so far, few would expect that to be a problem.

“I’m always trying to work harder, because there are always things I can improve on,” Berenter said.

“I see myself as a pretty consistent hitter and am always trying to be better, but I’m always looking to get quicker in the field. That’s what’s going to make me into a good college player.”