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Lincoln’s Stephanie Tofft named PVL’s MVP

Teammates Sharp, Emerson, Freymond make all-league team
By: Russ Edmondson The News Messenger
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Lincoln High senior softball star Stephanie Tofft was named the MVP of the Pioneer Valley League for the second consecutive season. Tofft starred as a pitcher and at the plate for the Zebras (22-4-1 overall, 12-0 in the PVL). She helped Lincoln win its first league title since 2000. Tofft batted .624 (53-for-85) with 39 RBI, five homers, five triples, nine doubles, 39 runs scored, 31 steals and an on base percentage of .673. She led the team in all these categories except triples and runs. As a pitcher she was dominant in 110.7 innings, going 15-1 with an earned run average of 0.95. She allowed 43 hits and 29 walks while striking out 172. Opponents batted .123 against her. Five other Zebras were also honored by the PVL coaches (who vote on the awards) and Lincoln coach Donna Tofft was named the PVL’s Coach of the Year. Donna Tofft’s husband Rich is a cousin of Stephanie’s father Kenichi. Lincoln juniors Nikoli Sharp (pitcher and first base), Katie Emerson (second base) and Kacie Freymond (shortstop) were named all-PVL. Eighteen players (not including Stephanie Tofft) made the all-league team. In addition, Lincoln senior Shante Wright (outfield) and junior Shelby Jones (third base) received an honorable mention (meaning they received at least one vote for all-league). Fourteen players from the PVL received an honorable mention. Sharp, like Stephanie Tofft, was a force as a pitcher (7-2 record, 57.3 innings, 46 hits, 22 walks, 35 strikeouts, 1.22 ERA, .212 opponents batting average) and a hitter (.558 batting average, 26 RBI, four homers, seven triples, eight doubles, 42 runs, 10 steals, on base percentage of .584). Sharp led the Zebras in triples and runs. Emerson (.493, 26 RBI, two homers, four triples, five doubles, 17 runs, seven steals, .587 OBP), Freymond (.412, 14 RBI, two homers, two doubles, 30 runs, nine steals, .485 OBA), Jones (.321, 10 RBI, two doubles, 19 runs, four steals, .389 OBP) and Wright (.311, 13 RBI, four doubles, 10 runs, two steals, .354 OBP) also had big seasons for the Zebras. These players played a key role in what was one of the greatest softball seasons in school history. “It was a nice season – our magic just ran out (in the playoffs),” said Donna Tofft, referring to Lincoln’s round-one loss to Center in the playoffs. “You have to be hungry and you have to be on a roll – and we just hit a team that was a little more hungry than we were.” Donna, who has been the head coach or an assistant coach with the Lincoln softball program for about 25 years, saw lots of improvement out of Stephanie over the last four years. “Expectations of her are high,” Donna said. “If she doesn’t do well it’s kind of like, ‘Wow. What happened?’ She played so well and was so consistent that it’s ‘What do you mean you didn’t hit the ball hard?’ It was kind of hands down (for the MVP).” Stephanie felt she improved in a lot of areas during her senior season. “I improved on pitching definitely as far as consistency,” she said. “Toward the end of the season I was getting tired but overall I improved. My goal for hitting was to improve a little bit every season and I did that. Other than that I improved as far as staying calm during the games.” Stephanie, who will attend Northern Illinois University on a full-ride softball scholarship beginning in the fall, will play softball for the California Breeze Gold, 18-and-under team this summer. She anticipates playing catcher and shortstop. “We have a tournament every weekend except this weekend coming up (until she moves to Illinois in mid-August),” said Stephanie, who will be in Illinois next week for freshmen orientation. Stephanie was frustrated with how the season ended for her and her Lincoln teammates – a 3-0 loss to Center on May 19 in Stockton. “It was definitely a disappointment,” she said. “We came out kind of flat. We were looking forward to the next game and we overlooked (Center) basically.” Donna expects Stephanie to thrive at the college level. “I don’t know if she will pitch – I know they want her for the outfield,” Donna said. “I just think they will expect her to be consistent. Each year she had to evolve at the high school level. “She had to become a better teammate and team leader as it went along – make her teammates better. I don’t know if she will have to worry about that pressure (to make others better) in college – just go out and play. It’s a different dynamic.” Other colleges that recruited Stephanie included San Jose State, Western Kentucky, Eastern Carolina, UC Riverside, Colorado State and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Northern Illinois is located in DeKalb, about an hour drive from Chicago. “I’m really excited to be able to play college softball – it’s exciting and something new,” Stephanie said.