Saturday, March 23, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Jenny Bressler last spring was the Michigan high school softball player of the year and led Plymouth High in Canton, Mich., to the district and regional championships.
Canton is about a 30-minute drive to Ann Arbor, where the University of Michigan softball program is a perennial Women’s College World Series qualifier. Seems like a perfect fit for Bressler, right?
Bressler, because of her diminutive 5-foot-4 frame, wasn’t recruited by Michigan, which like other top teams prefers power pitchers — most of whom are taller and bigger. And, more important, Bressler had spent most of her life pitching in the Michigan cold and desired a warm-weather city for college.
She’s found a home at UNLV, where second-year coach Kristie Fox started developing a relationship with Bressler a few years back on the recommendation of a pitching coach. Fox didn’t care about Bressler’s lack of size, instead looking at her winning pedigree and competitiveness, and realizing Bressler was exactly what her young UNLV program needed to make a splash.
Fox was right.
Bressler has been brilliant in the initial months of her UNLV career, giving up just one run in her last 30 innings pitched to win back-to-back Mountain West Pitcher of the Week awards. The Rebels have a 21-6 record through Friday, which is the third-best start in program history. They won two of three games last weekend against No. 24 Boise State, pushing the Rebels into the conversation for a berth into the NCAA Tournament, where they haven’t played in since 2009.
“The results speak for themselves,” Fox said. “She has a good idea of what she wants to do (when she pitches) and she’s good at what she does.”
Bressler has confused batters with the spin of her pitches and her accuracy. Even more impressive is her confidence, as she doesn’t appear to be rattled in tough situations. That’s especially true over the past two weekends, with Bressler posting a 5-0 record with a 0.23 earned run average, including 19 strikeouts in 30.2 innings pitched. She also helped the Rebels earn two close wins at Stanford.
“Those games have been really fun,” Bressler said of the tight wins against Stanford and Boise State. “One pitch at a time; one game at a time.”
Bressler says the only reason she is at UNLV is Fox, who originally recruited her to University of Texas at Arlington before becoming the Rebels’ coach two summers ago. The relationship has been vital to Bressler’s growth because Fox hasn’t tried to transform her protege into the prototypical college power pitcher.
Rather, Fox refuses to tinker with something that’s working, and working masterfully. Part of the development includes not overusing her star, meaning the contributions from starters Charlie Masterson and Breana Burke have also been valuable in the strong start.
“Simple. Not complicated,” said Fox, rattling off one of her philosophies.
UNLV was projected to finish fourth in the Mountain West in the preseason. Now, it’s likely set for a tightly contested race with Boise State and Colorado State, not to mention competitive games from the always-tough California schools of Fresno State, San Jose State and San Diego State for league supremacy.
Fortunately for the Rebels, their freshman from Michigan has been up to the challenge and has gained confidence with each positive outing. The accolades and stats have been nice, but Bressler “honestly doesn’t look much at the numbers.”
She appears to be more focused on the rest of the season, as the Rebels seem determined to keep beating teams nobody expected them to.