COLUMBIA — For a pitcher, Columbia's Brianna Weilbacher could sure swing a bat.
"She had a great high school career," Columbia coach Rhonda Major said of Weilbacher, who led the Eagles to a school-record 34 wins this season. "The last two years, she has been pretty amazing. She is not only a great pitcher, but a great hitter as well."
Weilbacher has been chosen as the Belleville News-Democrat Class 3A-4A Softball Player of the Year, beating out two other good-hitting pitchers in Belleville East's Alison Mitts and Edwardsville's Kallen Loveless in voting by metro-east coaches.
Weilbacher might have been able to win the award on just the merits of her pitching this season: 29-2 record, 0.57 ERA and 291 strikeouts in 183 innings of work, 17 shutouts and four no-hitters.
But, she also was one of the top hitters in the metro-east with a .505 batting average, an area-leading 15 home runs and 51 RBIs.
"She's very strong, and she's played a lot of ball like a lot of these girls have," Major said. "She has worked hard to get where she is at. Her numbers were very impressive as far as hitting and pitching."
Weilbacher had a 69-12 record and 763 strikeouts in her four years with the Eagles. She had a 46-6 record with 525 strikeouts over the past two seasons.
Weilbacher said pitching was always her top priority.
"I really didn't focus too much on hitting," Weilbacher said. "I go to hitting lessons, of course, but I just went up there and did everything I have been working on and it turned out."
Weilbacher, who took hitting lessons from Greg Pennock, the coach of the Dupo Tigers, seemed to pitch better in games where she hit well.
Case in point: She hit a solo homer and threw a no-hitter in a 1-0 win over Centralia in the championship game of the Class 3A Centralia Sectional.
"(Columbia catcher) Taryn (Pena) says when I hit better, I pitched better and harder," Weilbacher said. "If I wasn't hitting one day, I still went out there and didn't let that bother me."
Weilbacher, 19, the daughter of Patty and Gerald Weilbacher, is headed to Iowa State, where she hopes she'll still get the chance to at least occasionally step up to the plate.
"I'm going to pitch, obviously, but I can hit every once in a while, I assume," Weilbacher said. "They give all of their pitchers a chance to hit if they want to, so I'll just have to see how it goes."
Weilbacher said she chose Iowa State after a campus visit to Ames, Iowa.
"It was one of my last campus visits," Weilbacher said. "It was one of the last ones I saw. When I went on campus, the campus was the prettiest one I've seen and they had a great program for my major, which is education. I loved the coaches. The softball girls were very welcoming. I knew that was the place for me."
Weilbacher wasn't the only player who swung a big stick in the Eagles' lineup. They averaged 10 runs per game with seven regulars hitting over .400.
"It was a lot of fun," Weilbacher said of the run support. "Our lineup was pretty solid. We were strong all the way through. Our leadoff got on, our middle got on, our bottom got on. We just all took turns bringing each other in."
The Eagles' season ended with a 5-0 loss to Chatham Glenwood in the Mattoon Super-Sectional.
Weilbacher said she plays with about a half-dozen of the Chatham Glenwood players on her summer team, the Midland Magic.
"Just a little," Weilbacher said of the added pressure of pitching against hitters she knows so well.
Weilbacher is the lone starter the Eagles are losing to graduation. They have two pitchers waiting in the wings in sophomore Brina Rujawitz and freshman Clara Taake.
"We're going to have hitting and defense back," Major said. "Brianna Weilbacher is the only one we lost, but as we all know, pitching is huge. I know it's not going to be like the last four years, but I think we'll still be very competitive. It's not like we lost a ton of seniors and a have a bunch of open holes."
Major was voted as the Coach of the Year.
The Eagles had three other players -- first baseman Rachel Garcia, shortstop Kaylee Bastien and Pena -- on the first team.
Weilbacher's younger sister, freshman center fielder Courtney Weilbacher, made second team.
Weilbacher said it was the first time she and her sister have been teammates.
"It was nice getting to play with her one year and having her in center field," Weilbacher said. "We've never played together in the summer. It wasn't too bad. We got along pretty well."
Edwardsville had the most players on the first team with five.
It was definitely the Year of the Catcher in the metro-east with a whole group of stellar players working behind the plate this season.
Mater Dei's Molly Fields and Pena garnered first team honors, while Highland's Alyssa Voegele, O'Fallon's Becca Proper all are on the second team.
Two other standout catchers are filling utility spots with Belleville East's Andrea Roberts, who started the season at third base, on the first team and Collinsville's Kassidy Smith on the second team.
Althoff catcher Tori Lanaghan and Edwardsville catcher Anna Walsheleger also received a lot of support.
Highland's Mallory Rutz, who led the metro-east with a .552 batting average, got the most votes of any position player in easily claiming first team honors at third base.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.