Messalonskee softball coach Leo Bouchard has watched good players come and go in his 11 years as head coach but he’s never seen one quite like Kirsten Pelletier.

“In all the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never seen a person put in the time and effort not just to get better but to be the best,” Bouchard said.

A year ago as a junior, Pelletier struck out 12 in a 1-0 win against Scarborough in the Class A state championship game. She was even better this season as the Eagles went unbeaten in the regular season before being upset in the playoff semifinals. For her efforts, Pelletier has been selected Morning Sentinel Softball Player of the Year. Also considered was Madison catcher Aly LeBlanc who led the Bulldogs to the Class C state title.

Messalonskee didn’t return the hitting lineup it had a year ago but was nonetheless a better team this season, thanks in large part to Pelletier.

“Her pitching and our defense is what kept us in games,” Bouchard said.

Pelletier, who was named Maine’s Gatorade Softball Player of the Year this spring, struck out 225 batters in 133 innings this season while walking just 15. Opponents managed just a .112 batting average against her.

Although these numbers speak for themselves, they don’t reflect what Pelletier did to earn them. Three or four days a week she rousted her father Pete out of bed before 5 a.m. to get in pitching sessions before school. After school she followed a weight-training program submitted to her by the staff at Bates College where she’ll attend school this fall. She still found time for a part-time job at a local supermarket as well as making high honors at Messalonskee.

Pelletier started on Messalonskee’s field hockey team that went unbeaten in the regular season last fall but softball has always been her first love.

“I love it,” she said. “It’s something I fell into when I was little. My dad is awesome I owe everything to him.”

Pelletier was good a year ago but not nearly as dominant as she was this season, again a testimony to her hard work. Her fastball and changeup showed marked improvement and she developed a curve ball.

“I definitely worked on that last winter,” she said of the pitch. “I improved a lot since last year, listening and getting stronger.”

Pelletier improved as a hitter as well, raising her average nearly 100 points over last season to .317. An all-around athlete, she’s also an excellent fielder and baserunner.

“If she wasn’t pitching for me, she’d be playing shortstop,” Bouchard said. “She can do it all.”

As a team captain, Pelletier’s contributions to the team went even further.

“She was the leader in every aspect,” Bouchard said. “Her enthusiasm was contagious. She was contantly picking up kids who weren’t doing well.”

Pelletier admits she’s “not so happy” with the way the season ended for the Eagles, a 1-0 loss to Edward Little. Even in defeat she was nearly flawless. Only two batters reached — the first on a single and error who later scored on an infield hit. Otherwise Pelletier didn’t allow a baserunner while striking out 10.

This summer, in addition to working a couple of jobs, Pelletier is pitching for the Maine Thunder 18-plus team. The squad recently won a big tournament in Swansee, Massachusetts against older and more experienced competition, including five games in the final day. Pelletier, who pitches half the games for the Thunder, came on in relief in the championship game and struck out the side in the final inning to seal the win.

At Bates she plans to study neuroscience and “see where it takes me” while working to improve her softball skills. The Bobcats struggled to a 5-32 record last year and went 0-12 in conference play.

“I think she will help turn the the program around,” Bouchard said.