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Hard-working class: Bourgeois is perfectionist as Liberty’s shortstop, leadoff hitter

Sunday, May. 11 | By Jeff Malmgren
Liberty shortstop Leslie Bourgeois has a batting average over .500 in 2014 and will play at Lynchburg College next season. --Photo by Doug Stroud
Leslie Bourgeois began walking her career path with a broken ankle.

As a sixth grader, Bourgeois fractured a pair of bones in her leg two days before tryouts began for the Cedar Lee Middle School softball team. So she missed an entire season of the only sport she's ever loved to play.

That was the most difficult moment of her athletic life, but rehabilitation allowed her to find another passion – physical therapy.

Now a Liberty High senior, Bourgeois wants to begin studying exercise physiology next year at Lynchburg College, where she also plans to play softball for the Hornets.

"I've always wanted to go into the medical field. I had a passion to help other people," Bourgeois said. "When I went to physical therapy [for the injury], I thought it was pretty neat."

Pretty effective, too. Bourgeois hasn't missed a middle school or high school game since that 2008 season.

After recovering from her broken ankle, Bourgeois became a two-year starter on her Cedar Lee softball team before joining the Liberty squad in 2011. She immediately became the Eagles' starting shortstop and leadoff hitter.

"From Day One she did a fine job, or I wouldn’t have kept her there," Liberty coach Charlie Padgett said. "I've never thought about putting someone in her place."

Joining the shortstop lineage at Liberty creates expectations. Ryan Washington, for example, was a four-year starter from 2001-04 who went on to star at Longwood University. Danielle Morgan replaced her at Liberty as a four-year starter from 2005-08.

Carrying on the Eagles’ history of shortstop stability, Bourgeois is now playing her fourth season at that position. It took a while for her to feel comfortable there as a freshman, though.

Bourgeois was one of only two freshmen on a 2011 Liberty team that had six seniors forming its core.

“It was intimidating at first,” she said. “But I got really close to the girls and it felt like a family. The first game is when I finally felt: ‘Everything’s going to be OK. Don't be nervous. These are your teammates.’”

Plus, she had Washington as a coach. An assistant to Padgett, Washington helped Bourgeois develop into a two-time all-Evergreen District infielder (2013 first team; 2012 second team).

“She's definitely helped me with cleaning up my position. I know my mechanics for short,” Bourgeois said. “She helped me better myself so going into college I'll be ready.”

Bourgeois will play at Lynchburg, an NCAA Division III team, after choosing it over Shenandoah University. So Liberty (5-7 record) will have a rare turnover at shortstop.

“Without her we'd have a big hole,” Padgett said. “She's a competitor. She understands the game.

“Ryan was the best I've ever had, hands down,” he said, “but [Bourgeois is] right up there with the rest.”

In fact, Bourgeois didn't committed an error during the Eagles’ first eight games. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that she considers herself a bit of a perfectionist.

During batting practice, if Bourgeois doesn’t hit the ball hard with her final swing she’ll insist on receiving another pitch. During fielding practice, if she doesn’t track down a ground ball and throw it perfectly across the diamond she’ll immediately request another opportunity.

“I feel like I always have to get stuff right. That’s not just in softball,” she said. “If I don't end on a good note it doesn't feel right.”

That means Bourgeois often leaves the batter’s box feeling uncomfortable during games. In softball, after all, the majority of at bats end in failure – without a hitter reaching base.

Bourgeois fares better than most, though. Through Liberty's first eight games she posted an impressive .520 batting average after hitting above .400 each of the past two seasons and almost .350 as a freshman.

“Her hand-eye coordination is polished,” Padgett said.

Contact has been her key to success. Bourgeois has not struck out this season.

“That's huge for a leadoff batter,” Padgett said. “You can't beat that.”

Bourgeois was 13-for-25 with two doubles, four runs and two RBIs through eight games. She failed to put the ball in play during only four plate appearances, and each resulted in a walk.

“At least get the bat on the ball so you know you’re on it and just need an adjustment to get those hits,” she said. “You don't want to let the pitcher get the best of you.”

Bourgeois actually tried her hand at pitching as a youth, but now that’s the lone position on the field at which Padgett wouldn’t put her.

“Unless you want it [pitched] right down the middle,” she said.

Catching, however, suits Bourgeois fine. She shifted to that position for a few games earlier this season to help fill in for an ill Liberty player. She apparently makes a good target for pitches, as well as punches.

Bourgeois sometimes helps her brother, Wadell Jr., practice his taekwondo technique.

“I'm basically his dummy,” she said. “He uses his moves on me.”

Leslie Bourgeois has little interest in participating in sports outside of softball, though. Her focus has been on it since she began playing at age 8, and her talent became evident early.

“Probably about a year into it,” Bourgeois’ father, Wadell Sr., said. “She took whatever the coaches were saying to heart and worked at it. She really still works at it today. She’s always trying to be better.”

To that end, Leslie Bourgeois plays on the Fauquier Freeze travel team and spends much of her free time on softball fields. After falling in love with the sports’ intricacies, no other games compare.

“I just like the thrill of it,” she said. “The two-out rallies; turning two.”

Bourgeois, however, is also a football fan, especially of the New Orleans Saints. She lived for almost two years in New Orleans, her father’s native city, after being born in Venezuela, the native country of her mother, Maria.

Wadell Bourgeois spent time in Venezuela while working as an engineer for MC Dean out of Manassas. He soon married, welcomed the birth of a daughter and then moved his family to Louisiana before relocating again to Virginia when Leslie was about three years old.

Bourgeois has lived in Bealeton since second grade, but New Orleans remains one of her favorite places.

“We go back a lot,” said Bourgeois, whose last name earned her the nickname “Frenchy” in middle school. “I always have a great time. I love being around my family.”

She also returned to Venezuela a few years ago for a visit.

“It was nice seeing my family and just being in a different” atmosphere, she said. “But you definitely realize you don't want take stuff for granted.

“It’s a little more poor country,” she said. “There compared to here is totally different.”

- - - - -

The Bourgeois File

Family: Father, Wadell, is an engineer at for CH2M Hill in Manassas. Mother, Maria, is an assistant manager at Walmart. Brother Wadell Jr., 14, is a freshman golfer at Liberty High.

Favorite food: “I love Spanish food and Cajun food. … Me and my mom are from Venezuela and my dad is from New Orleans.”

Favorite team: New Orleans Saints. “Me and my dad will just lie on the coach all day and watch them."

Favorite athlete: Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. “I like watching the games on TV. I keep telling my father he needs to get me some tickets.”

Superstition: “My jersey, the first button and the last button always have to be unbuttoned ever since my freshman year. I don't know why, but it just has to.”

Favorite situation: Turning a double play. “It's actually really hard [in softball] because you have to get the timing perfect. If they have fast runners it’s extremely difficult.”

Hobby: “I can somewhat draw. Whenever I’m bored, I just grab a notebook and doodle.”

Favorite movie: “The Last Song.” “It's a love story. I just think it’s really cute and romantic.”

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