A case of chronic biceps tendonitis has kept one of last season’s deadliest high school softball pitchers out of the circle in 2015, but it hasn’t kept Dupo’s Megan Brown from being just as deadly at the dish.
Still just a sophomore and already committed to play at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Brown ranks high among her metro-east peers in most offensive statistical categories.
Entering the semifinal round of the Class 2A Roxana Regional Tuesday, the BND Athlete of the Week was fourth in home runs (6), fourth in runs batted in (36), third in runs scored (37), first in doubles (18) and first in batting average (.627).
Throw in her 13 walks (No. 8) and Brown’s on-base percentage reaches .680 , which is nearly 80 points higher than No. 2 on the list.
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“Her mental approach to hitting is better than anybody I’ve ever seen at that age,” said Dupo head coach Greg Pennock. “ A lot of kids are happy when they get a hit. She’s very unhappy when she doesn’t get a hit — not to the point that it bothers her and effects her game. She just expects to have a good at-bat every time.
“She has that expectation and she plays her entire game like that. It’s what makes her elite.”
Brown has helped Dupo to a 20-7 overall record including seven wins in its last eight games. The top-seeded Tigers advanced to championship game of the the Class 2A Roxana Regional Tournament Saturday with a 5-1 semifinal win Tuesday over Roxana.
It wasn’t that Brown didn’t hit as a freshman — she batted .482 — but her work in the pitcher’s circle is what drew the early attention of college recruiters.
Her 28 wins were the second most in the metro-east last season, her 1.12 earned-run average was the fourth best, and her 279 strikeouts (an average of more than 10 per game) ranked third.
Nobody is really sure when she sustained the injury to her throwing arm — “she might have been throwing with it for years,” her coach said — but the discomfort has gotten bad enough to warrant caution.
Pennock has advised her at this stage of her career to lay off pitching at least through the summer season.
“She can stand at the warning track and throw rockets over hand to third base and it doesn’t bother her, but she has pain coming into the down motion,” said Pennock. “It’s nice for her to be in the position where she can take the summer off. I think that’s the smartest thing she can do.”
That’s advice Brown is heeding. In the meantime, she’s playing wherever Pennock needs her. So far that’s meant innings at first base, shortstop, center field and right field. The push to be flexible may follow her to college, too, she said.
“My goal is just to make it to college, so I’m going to ease back into pitching slowly,” she said. “I do plan to pitch again though.
“(SIU coach Kerri Blaylock) told me pitching is a bonus, but that I’ll see more field time and have the chance to hit as well. It’s great that I can pitch, but I’ll be used other places. Wherever I’m needed is where I’ll play.”
Brown says her father, Joe Brown, taught her from a young age how to focus, work hard and maintain a humble demeanor through whatever success she has. She also credits Pennock, who has been her hitting coach since she was seven, and summer coach Randy Viefhaus of the St. Louis Diamondcats, for being consistent in their message and style.
“I just walk up with the plan to hit a strike. I don’t want to swing at anything out of my zone and make her pitch to me,” she said. “My coaches preach shooting the middle. If I get a strike, I swing and try to hit it hard back up the middle.”
Pennock bats Brown a little higher in the lineup for her level of run production, a strategy that is facilitated by a deep lineup.
Leadoff hitter Alyssa Strubberg’s 20 stolen bases helps set the table ahead of Brown and Savannah Maldonado’s region-high nine sacrifice bunts from the No. 8 hole also keeps runners in scoring position for the sophomore slugger.
“I put her in the No. 2 spot because it may allow Megan to come up maybe one more out earlier,” Pennock said. “You’ve got to get your best hitter as many at-bats as you possible can. Once the first inning is over, your order is whatever it works out to be.”
Junior pitcher Jessica Stansch has picked up Brown’s slack in the pitcher’s circle with a 16-5 record and 1.88 ERA.
All things considered, Brown sees potential in the Tigers for a prolonged playoff run.
“The whole lineup does a great job,” she said. “We have a very solid batting lineup all the way through. Jessica is doing a great job on the mound, the defense is much better since the start of the year. It’s all coming together.”
Megan Brown by the numbers
At bats: 86
Home runs: 6
Stolen bases: 7
On base percentage: .673
Slugging percentage: 1.081