Softball: Thoughtfully, Grayslake North's Brown powers up
The softball explodes off her bat. Her line drives scream. Her Grayslake North teammates, coaches and fans cheer.
Grace Brown is so quiet, like her powerful swing. It's her personality. But don't confuse the soft-spoken slugger for being someone who has little to say or few thoughts.
If only we could hear the conversations she has with herself during games, when she studies science or math, when she gets locked in mentally at whatever she does. If our ears were perked, we would learn a lot.
When Brown watches her team bat and thinks about the approach she'll take when she steps into the batter's box, the A-student studies, absorbs. While she says, smiling, "I just hit the ball as hard as I can," there is more to it than that simple strategy.
"I think a lot," Brown, as serious as she can be, said of when she sits in the dugout watching the opposing pitcher try to get outs. "I'm trying to find the patterns. When other people are batting, (I'm thinking), 'What pitch does she throw in certain counts?' "
Brown usually has the answer.
Not surprising for a kid who hopes to pursue biomedical engineering in college.
The cerebral hitter made plenty of noise at the plate this spring, with a .611 batting average, .731 on-base percentage and 18 home runs among her gaudy statistics. After also helping Grayslake North win 19 games, its most since 2012, and reel off a school-record 12 wins in a row late in the season, the 5-foot-7 junior third baseman is the captain of the Daily Herald's Lake County all-area team.
Brown's 18 homers -- in just 26 games -- broke her own school record by eight. Her 44 hits also included 11 doubles. She slugged 1.514, knocked in 55 runs and drew 27 walks (10 intentional).
"She has a fantastic eye at the plate, and she doesn't miss pitches," Knights coach Lea Corcoran said. "When she started to get more home runs this year, teams were trying to work around her. When she got her one pitch that she might see all game, she hit it. That's what it takes to be successful."
Brown has been hitting the ball hard for the Knights since her freshman year, when she hit .506 with 7 homers. Last year, she batted .439 and hiked her homer total to a single-season team record of 10.
"My goal was to have more homers (this season)," said Brown, the all-time homer leader in Grayslake North's 12-year history with 35. "I think it was a little different this year because all the seniors (from last year) were gone and we had one senior (Jelly Diaz). We needed more leadership."
Brown belted 2 grand slams, including one that landed on Grayslake North's varsity baseball field, a shot that requires at least a 15-foot carry beyond the softball diamond's 202-foot sign in center field. Her streak of homering in eight straight games ended when Antioch coach Anthony Rocco intentionally walked her four times in a game his Sequoits needed to clinch the Northern Lake County Conference championship outright.
In Grayslake North's first game against Antioch, Brown homered in her only official at-bat.
"Her attitude at the plate is the attitude I've been preaching: 'You are not better than me. You are not going to throw three pitches by me,' " said Grant coach Chris VanAlstine, whose own hitter Erin Bengston was the captain of the 2017 all-area team. "It's all about how you approach hitting. She deserves whatever she gets, award-wise, this year."
Brown wants to play college softball but academics will take priority. She has taken overnight visits to Milwaukee School of Engineering and Indiana Tech. It will be important that the school she chooses has a good engineering program and her major.
Her interest in biomedical engineering was triggered freshman year when she took an engineering class called Project Lead The Way, an elective.
"We were researching types of engineering," said Brown, who owns a 4.2 GPA (4.0 scale) and is the middle of three children of Jeff, an accountant, and Brenda, a personal trainer/triathlon coach. "I had already come across biomedical, so I was looking more in-depth. At that time, one of its biggest accomplishments was an artificial heart. I thought that was pretty cool."
Not all things are complex in her world. She has another year of high school to go, and her approach going into next softball season will be simple, actually.
"My goal is always to hit more home runs than the last year," Brown said. "So that will be my goal again."