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ND Softball

After breakout year, Brooks looks to lead Irish to ultimate prize

| Friday, May 17, 2019

Irish senior designated player Cait Brooks didn’t think she would ever win ACC Softball Player of the Year. Even after being a standout player at Burbank High School in California — where she recorded over 80 wins and 1,000 strikeouts in her career as a pitcher. Even after being named the final ACC player of the week in her freshman season. Even after being named to the ACC Championship All-Tournament Team her sophomore and junior years, she was still surprised to win the award.

“I think it’s really exciting and something I didn’t think would ever happen,” she said.

Part of the surprise may be due to the fact the Brooks had never really broken out as a pitcher for the Irish, peaking at 25 appearances on the mound and 61.1 innings pitched in her second year. Despite the lack of production throwing the ball, Brooks contributed to the Irish (36-16, 18-6 ACC) as a hitter from the outset of her collegiate career.

Her freshman campaign saw her lead the Irish in home runs with 11 and slugging percentage with a .639. In addition, Brooks posted the most RBIs by a Notre Dame freshman with 55 — 30 of which came while facing the pressure of having two outs. Brooks has also performed well in her career against high-caliber opponents; she hit a game-tying solo home run to help the Irish defeat eventual national champion Oklahoma her sophomore year, and she scored Notre Dame’s first run in a victory over eventual national champion Florida State last year.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish senior infielder Cait Brooks swings at a pitch during Notre Dame’s 8-0 win over IUPUI on April 2 at Melissa Cook Stadium.

During Brooks’ tenure, the Irish have steadily improved their standing not only in the ACC but nationally as well. The 2017 season saw Notre Dame go 34-23 and finish fifth in conference play at 13-11. Since then, the team has continued to post a winning record in the ACC and win more than 30 games overall in the past two years. They tied for fourth place in the conference last year and finished in third this year, boosting the Irish to No. 33 in the NCAA Women’s Softball RPI Poll. Brooks believes that her senior class has achieved what they set out to over the course of their careers and in their final season.

“I think our senior class really came in strong, and that was kind of a goal we wanted to accomplish,” Brooks said. “so I think as a whole we really stayed as a unit and really wanted this team to be great, and I think we’ve accomplished that so far.”

Despite the team’s improvement over the years, Brooks’ production actually diminished in her second and third years, due in part to the increased attention she received from pitchers as a verified batting threat. Her batting average, slugging percentage and total hits all fell with each passing year. However, Brooks said she put the pieces together by placing more emphasis on her mental preparation.

“I think, just for me, I took watching film and preparing myself prior to the game a little bit more in-depth versus in previous years,” Brook said. “So I think using that as an adjustment into this season was definitely a major factor.”

This season was the definition of a breakout, as Brooks shattered her previous statistics. She set the school record for home runs with 20 in the regular season, more than her sophomore and junior season totals combined. In addition, she improved all her batting numbers significantly from her junior year while recording the same number of at-bats.

Her batting average increased from .272 to .422, her slugging percentage jumped from .469 to .884 and she increased her hits from 40 to 62 and her RBIs from 38 to 56. Her mental preparation was evident as she also decreased the number of times she struck out from 18 to 10, all culminating in a .516 on base percentage and causing pitchers to walk her 33 times.

After the regular season, Brooks led the conference in home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, on base percentage and total bases, and she placed second in RBIs. Her achievements were recognized as she was named Player of the Year in the ACC and selected to the All-ACC First Team — even more impressive considering she didn’t make a single All-ACC team prior to this year. She also became only the second Notre Dame player to ever win the award and said that she hopes the honor does not remain an uncommon to Irish players going forward.

“I didn’t know [I was only the second], so that’s really awesome,” Brooks said. “I hope there’s plenty more after me.”

Brooks said that the award means a lot to her as a designated player, since most accolades go to players in the field.

“I think it’s great especially [because] … hitting and being able to contribute at the plate, I think that being recognized for that is really awesome, and it kind of paves the way for other hitters and people who might not necessarily see the field as much,” she said.

Despite her individual success, Brooks acknowledges that she couldn’t have gotten to this point by herself.

“I really couldn’t do it without my team,” Brooks said. “They’re always there supporting me.”

With the ACC tournament finished, the Irish are preparing for their regional matches, and Brooks is looking forward to the opportunity presented to the team.

“I want to win the regional — win some regionals and win the [College] World Series,” Brooks said. “[That’s] the ultimate goal.”

With the ACC Player of the Year at the helm, no goal is too far out of reach.

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