Brugger is starring in the circle and at bat for Neshaminy softball this season

Neshaminy junior pitcher Amber Brugger. CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer

Amber Brugger was, in her own words, "bugging" her coach.

Relentless. Persistent.

"Come on, Chic," the Neshaminy softball player pleaded to Dave Chichilitti last season, imploring him to let her hit in the lineup.

"Put me somewhere, anywhere," the junior said to him then. "Put me at the bottom."

Brugger didn't care where she was on the lineup card. Any place - one through nine - would do fine. She just wanted more chances at the plate than a few pinch-hitting attempts scattered throughout the course of the year.

Chichilitti's response was almost always the same, according to Brugger. She was a pitcher. He didn't want to risk it.

This year, he relented, putting her in the leadoff position, and Brugger hasn't made him regret the decision, batting .320 with 18 hits, eight walks and an on-base percentage of .500.

That's not bad for someone who rarely picked up a bat in a Neshaminy (17-2) uniform during her two previous campaigns with the team. It's just one way the righthander has stepped up this season.

The other?

She took over on the mound full-time after an injury to fellow pitcher and Villanova recruit Sarah Dowalo sidelined her after the team's first scrimmage.

"I think people probably underestimated us, that there goes [the] chance of making a run when Sarah went down. That is, until they saw Amber pitch in person. When you see her in person, you see what she can do," Chichilitti said. "I never thought there goes our chance, I didn't know about that, because [Amber] is pretty tough. You are going to have beat her.

"I think she's come a long way as a player, as a leader, as a person. She's just so talented. She's always been a very talented pitcher."

That is why, as a freshman surrounded by an offensive juggernaut of a group, Brugger threw more than 100 innings and earned 15 wins in the circle, with an ERA of less than 2 on the year. Her sophomore season saw her split time with Dowalo as her ERA remained impressively consistent, but her innings pitched were cut in half.

It was all a part of a strategy by Chichilitti to have "pitcher 1 and pitcher 1A" with each player facing off once against league opponents while also playing to their strengths down the stretch, including the postseason.

"I go into every game and do the best I can. Whatever happens, happens," Brugger said. "I always want to do well. We both have our ups and downs. We are both different pitchers, and that's fine. We are both good pitchers, and so we each deserve the time."

That strategy was expected to continue for their junior year, but the injury threw Brugger back into the spotlight.

No more pitcher 1 and 1A. Just a lone hurler.

"Sarah can shut you down, Amber is not going to do that," Chichilitti said. "But she's going to make it easy on the defense, get groundballs. She pitches well, pounds the zone. When you need her to dig down and get a strikeout, she always manages to find a way. In sticky situations, she always toughs it out."

Brugger says she's always been that type of player, a contact pitcher, with the lone exception of when she was 12. That was a period of her career that "I don't think counts," she said.

"Yes, strikeouts are better, but I'm more of a pitcher to hit my spots, hit the corners. I'd rather have groundouts than a line drive or home run."

While the focus has remained the same, Brugger is a different pitcher this year, one with more movement, more variety and more maturity. All things, she says, have led her to become more effective on the mound.

The numbers support that. A 16-1 record, including seven shutouts, over 110 innings of work. She has allowed only 22 earned runs, 76 hits, 37 walks and struck out 110 batters.

All the while her pregame warm-up remains the same as it always has. First up is running and stretching, followed by throwing overhand before Brugger and Dowalo walk over to the school's other field.

Flicks. Side circles. Full motion. Working through every pitch.

It didn't matter if Brugger was slated to start the contest that day or if she was scheduled to split innings with Dowalo, that was her routine each and every game with the same intensity each time.

One thing that's different these days?

Sometimes she gets to see the batter's box before she hits the mound.