If you saw New Berlin Eisenhower's Steffi Lombardo's final at bat of the season, you could easily understand why she is the 2014 NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year, the second year in a row a Lions player (Katie Lang) won the top honor.
Trailing New London, 3-1, in the semifinal game of the WIAA Division 2 State Tournament at Goodman Park on June 12, Lombardo came to bat with two outs and Ali Nowak, who had doubled, on second.
New London pitcher Shelby Sommer, who used several off-speed pitches to get Lombardo to ground out to first in the first inning and ground out to second in the fifth inning, stuck with what worked the first two times up.
Lombardo swung at Sommer's first pitch — a change-up — and drilled a 2-run homer that left the park in about two seconds. The rightfielder barely had time to turn and the ball landed beyond the right field fence.
"The previous at bat she threw me two change-ups and I swung and missed at one," Lombardo said. "I was looking for it this time."
Lombardo stands 6-feet, 2 inches tall and is a strong, wiry player. A natural first baseman, her favorite position, Steffi moved to shortstop when Katie Schlegel pitched and then stepped into the pitching rotation down the stretch when Schlegel was injured.
Coach Jeff Setz talked about Lombardo's mound work.
"We took her out of her comfort zone, but we really needed her in that position to step in," he said. "She was a little reluctant, so she threw a little batting practice.
"We would have been in trouble without her. Once she got serious, she got better and better. The more innings she pitched, the more comfortable she got with her catcher (Nowak) and she pitched pretty well. When she beat Greenfield, 3-2, and went seven strong innings down the stretch, we knew we'd be fine."
Lombardo talked about moving to shortstop from first base and how it benefited her defensive skill set.
"It was not that big of a change," she said about moving to shortstop. "Fielding ground balls, lots of action; I got to dive more. I did pretty well; made plays I did not know I could make — up the middle, in the hole.
"It also helped my arm. It extended my range and helped my throwing velocity. It also helped my back hand and quickness."
The University of Wisconsin noticed Lombardo last year after her sophomore year when she was a third-team All-State and first-team All-District, All-Conference and NOW All-Suburban selection. The Badgers offered her a scholarship and she verbally accepted, even though she has one year left at Eisenhower.
"I liked the staff, the campus," Lombardo said. "They had a chance to travel to Chicago and see me play club ball (Illinois Chill Gold) and see how much I improved.
"I'm very excited. I was relieved that I get to go to Wisconsin. I achieved my dream. I get to go to a good school and play to the best of my ability at the highest level."
Lombardo made first-team All-State, All-District, All-Conference and All-Woodland this season. She blasted 10 homers and drove in 49 runs and scored 45 runs. She batted .547, had a 1.053 slugging percentage and a .610 on base percentage.
She was pleased with earning the NOW All-Suburban Player of the Year Award since it helped show that all her hard work paid off.
"I was definitely excited," she said. "It showed I improved from the year before and I want to be better next year. I want to hit more homers, have a better batting average."
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