Belleville East sophomore Grace Brauer is kicking into high gear.
Brauer is on a remarkable goal-scoring binge. In the Lancers’ last five games, all of them victories, the forward has 11 goals. Twice in the last four games, Brauer has scored four goals.
“It feels pretty good,” said Brauer, a Xavier recruit whose 23 goals lead the Southwestern Conference and rank sixth in the St. Louis region.
Brauer’s breakout began last Wednesday when she scored a goal in East’s 3-1 victory over visiting Althoff.
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She was just getting warmed up.
Brauer had all four of the Lancers’ goals in a 4-2 victory over Eldridge North Scott (Iowa) on Friday in the Adidas Tournament of Champions in Burlington, Iowa. She tacked on another goal in a 2-1 win over Cedarburg (Wis.) later Friday.
I can’t score the goals without my team giving me these balls they’ve been giving me. It’s a team effort and we’re all doing great things. I’m just there to finish them.
Belleville East sophomore forward Grace Brauer
On Saturday, Brauer scored the winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Springfield that concluded the tournament in Iowa. The game was played in rain and hail.
Finally, on Monday, Brauer again scored four goals as the Lancers earned a 5-1 win over Marquette on Senior Night. Junior Hollie Kreher assisted on three of Brauer’s goals.
“I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s exciting,” said Brauer, who had 12 goals as a freshman. “But it really doesn’t come down to me scoring all the goals. It’s really how hard my team is working. My team is doing really good and that’s why I’m scoring all the goals.
“I can’t score the goals without my team giving me these balls they’ve been giving me. It’s a team effort and we’re all doing great things. I’m just there to finish them.”
Easier said than done
But finishing is a special talent. Lancers coach Erika Todd-Baptist was an outstanding forward at Granite City High and was the Belleville News-Democrat’s Player of the Year in 2000.
But Todd-Baptist said knowing the game is one thing. Teaching it is another. With Brauer, Todd-Baptist is able to sit back and watch her work.
“You can’t coach finishing,” said Todd-Baptist, whose team is 14-6. “Grace is the only person who can stop herself. I don’t know that I’ve seen a defense that can shut her down goal-less. We’ve just got to keep playing the way we’re playing as a team and she won’t be goal-less.”
Todd-Baptist has enjoyed Brauer’s recent tear, calling it “fun to watch.”
“She’s self-motivated. She’s a great kid,” said Todd-Baptist, crediting Brauer for her fearlessness. “Grace is one of those players who’s not afraid to take people on. She’s not afraid to lose the ball in the attacking third, and I think that helps.”
Brauer said she had a feeling in the Althoff game that something magical was about to happen. Even in East’s previous game, Brauer had a goal in a 5-1 loss to Incarnate Word.
“I felt like something was getting ready to happen because of how good we were practicing,” Brauer said. “In Iowa, we were all excited about it and we all wanted it. We just came out and played like the team I knew we could be. We’ve kept going from there. The game (Monday) night, we played exactly like we played in Iowa. It just keeps getting better.”
Brauer has 23 goals for Belleville East. She has 11 goals in her last five games, all of them victories, and twice has scored four goals in a game.
Brauer, 16, said her favorite goal in Iowa came against Springfield, a team the Lancers defeated 4-3 in penalty kicks in the Metro Cup Tournament on March 18 at East.
“It was tied 1-1 in the second half and we were all scraping to score,” Brauer said. “It was freezing, hailing, and we were all tired. It was a long game and there wasn’t going to be any overtime. It would go straight to PKs if we tied. I knew I needed to get the job done and I went top-left corner and scored over the goalie. It was a great feeling.”
Sophomore midfielder Annie Brown had the assist on Brauer’s game-winner.
“I was soaking wet and it was hard to run because my uniform was so heavy,” Brauer said. “It just felt great that I could do that for my team.”
Paying close attention to the opposing goalie before and during every game always is Brauer’s mission. She evaluates the goalie’s strengths and weaknesses and tries to exploit the shortcomings.
“I take a good look at the goalie the first couple of shots we get,” Brauer said. “I see if she’s good high, if she’s good low, how she is on her kicks. If she’s bad on her kicks, I’ll go up and kind of scare her so she kicks it right to me. If she’s good high, I kick it low. It’s all about that.”
One of Brauer’s goals against Eldridge North Scott came against a goalkeeper that wasn’t a strong kicker. Brauer positioned herself at the top of the box, gained possession of a weak goal kick and scored into the upper-right corner with her left foot.
“It was all pretty quick,” Brauer said.
Brauer is right-footed, but her left foot is coming along.
“My right foot is definitely stronger, but I’m not scared to use my left foot,” she said. “(Monday) night I scored with my left foot. It was a pretty nice goal. I can get the job done with my left, too. I’m very comfortable in the air. I think any ball that comes to my head, I’m hopefully putting it in the back of the net.”
Brauer, the daughter of Keith and Cari Brauer, began playing soccer at the tender age of 4 “because my sister Lilly played and I wanted to be just like her.”
Lilly Brauer is a senior defender at East who is back on the field again after two ACL surgeries. She will play next year at Webster University in Webster Groves, Mo.
“I’m finally back on the field with her,” said Grace Brauer, who attended Westhaven Elementary School and Central Junior High before arriving at East. “It’s going to be really tough to lose her, but she’s going to Webster to play soccer and I’m really excited to see what’s to come for her.”
Brauer had a hat trick last season against Althoff. For most forwards, that’s the pinnacle. Brauer now understands more is possible.
“Four (goals) in Iowa, I was really excited about that, but I didn’t know if it could happen again,” Brauer said. “Then (Monday) night, I proved myself wrong. But all I could think about was if I could make it five. I’m going to be thinking about that the rest of the season, if I can make it five. Yeah, four is great, but I can always do better. My goal is five now.”
Yeah, (scoring) four is great, but I can always do better. My goal is five now.
Don’t bet against Brauer. She’s already exceeded one of her objectives.
“This season, I was hoping for 20 goals,” Brauer said. “Now I have 23, so I’m going for 25. And I’ll go up from there.”
Stay tuned. East’s regular-season finale is at 5 p.m. Wednesday against Gibault at Oerter Park in Columbia.