Softball: Warren's Britton was one tough 'Devil' to get out
Her circle was empty. Warren senior Caitlyn Britton is used to pitching from a softball circle, just her, a yellow ball and a rectangular white slab of rubber.
It can be lonely. Like being a freshman at a big high school, after graduating from a small middle school, where everybody knows everybody. She had few friends, if any, in her circle.
"Going into high school, I was panicking because I knew about 20 kids," said Britton, noting her classmates from Millburn Middle School in Lindenhurst scattered to different schools, including Grayslake North, Lakes and Carmel Catholic.
Four years, 52 homers and 219 RBI later, her number of friends wouldn't fit in an alien-made crop circle.
"I think the whole entire Warren school knows who Caitlyn Britton is," Warren junior catcher Carissa Topolinski said with a laugh. "You can ask basically anyone from any group of kids at Warren and they will at least give you, 'She's a good softball player.' "
Better than good.
"Britton, she had a great career -- lots of (school) records broken," Warren coach Jenna Charbonneau said.
Only the 53 career homers of former Carmel star Jenny Behan are more than Britton's among all-time Lake County sluggers. Britton's career RBI total, according to IHSA records heading into this season, would rank in the top five.
Her senior season ended with 19 homers, 64 RBI and a .580 batting average, earning the slugging pitcher the honor of Lake County captain for the Daily Herald All-Area softball team. Her grand slam, with host Warren trailing Grayslake North 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth in the regional final, punctuated her season and put the Blue Devils into the sectional.
"Holy cow," Topolinski said when asked what impresses her most about Britton's softball skills. "If we're in a tight game, tight situation, and we need just one hit or a strikeout (from her), she always comes through with that."
Britton started on varsity for four seasons, served as the Blue Devils' ace since her sophomore year, earned all-area honors three times and helped her team win 103 games.
That -- along with an exemplary work ethic, perfectionist mind set and team-first attitude -- will make you popular among your teammates, classmates and coaches.
"It's been unbelievable, having this experience with a great team," Britton said after Warren's season ended with a 4-1 loss to Libertyville in the Class 4A Palatine sectional semifinals. "When I was a freshman, I had all the seniors on my side, talking me through. I was a shy freshman. I didn't know anybody."
From Milburn (graduating class about 200) to Warren (graduating class close to 1,000), she met new people, waved hi to kids who knew she was that good softball player. She earned a softball scholarship to Central Michigan University and enjoyed every minute of her high school experience. To talk to her now, you might guess she's even an extrovert.
"Having the girls warm up to me (freshman year)," Britton said, "it just made my whole high school experience so much different."
In the sectional semifinal, with Libertyville rallying in the sixth inning of a tie game, Charbonneau made a pitching change, sending Britton to right field. Three runs later, Warren's season was all but over.
Britton didn't pout about not getting the chance to finish what she started. There are ways to contribute and set an example for younger players without using a bat or glove.
"It's a team game," said Britton, fighting back tears. "I'll sacrifice anything for the team. The last four years have been the best four years of my life pretty much."
With their great player, those four years were equally great for the Blue Devils.