STOCKTON -- The legend that is Caitlin Brooks added a new dimension Saturday, as the Escalon High junior led her Cougars to a second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division 5 championship.
Already the Stanislaus District's top hurler -- Brooks was The Bee's Player of the Year last year -- she now deserves to be called one of the region's top clutch hitters.
"Can you believe what she just did?" said Escalon athletic director Mark Loureiro, as he cheered the Cougars from the stands. "She does it all."
After silencing one of the region's most potent lineups for nine innings, Brooks belted a walk-off three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-0 victory over Trans-Valley League rival Hughson in a suspense-filled title game.
"As soon as she released the pitch, I saw it was coming inside and I felt I could turn on it quickly," Brooks said. "After I hit it, I didn't care where it went, so long as it fell in."
It fell in the parking lot behind the left-field fence, some 230 feet from home plate.
It was hit high and hard enough that the Cougars' fans began celebrating before the ball ricocheted off a shiny red Lexus, setting off its alarm.
Brooks allowed one run in 34 playoff innings, the latest piece of a sensational career that has earned her multiple scholarship offers. She has a made a verbal commitment to play for Sacramento State.
The Trans-Valley League's runaway MVP the last two years, she has no equal on the rubber or at the plate. Brooks says her job is made easier by her teammates' all-out effort.
"With the great defense behind me, I was coinfident we could play as long as we needed before we would score and win," said Brooks, who had a two-hitter with 10 strikeouts and one walk. "Whenever we play Hughson, it seems, we're going to have a tight game."
Brooks and Hughson's Alyssa Coelho put up zeroes for eight innings, but Casey Schmidig was hit by a pitch to open the bottom of the ninth.
After a failed bunt led to an out, No. 3 hitter Lou Jackson singled up the middle to put runners on second and third. Jackson had delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh in Friday's 2-1 victory over Hughson, which sent Escalon to the section final.
Brooks then fouled off a few pitches and, with a 1-2 count, hit Coelho's riseball as hard as any ball she's hit this year.
It was a dramatic finale to a game that had a half-dozen defensive gems, including a no-look catch at the fence by Escalon's Breanna Brodie and four dazzling throws by Hughson catcher Erica Mireles.
Oh yeah, a triple play, too.
Escalon was poised to score in the fifth, with runners on second and third and no outs. Shelise Hatfield hit a high fly that Krista Bava caught in short center, but not even her strong throw could beat Hatfield as she crossed the plate.
Mireles saw the runner going to third and fired a throw so accurate that the runner slid into the tag for a second out. After the play, Hughson appealed the tag at third and Samantha Lorig was called out for leaving the base early.
Mireles also caught three of the four Cougars who tried to steal, single-handedly making sure it stayed scoreless.
"They were aggressive, but we've seen them so we know what to expect," said Mireles, noting this was the fifth meeting between league rivals. "After I caught the first one, I was surprised they kept running. Maybe they felt they needed to create some runs."
Escalon needed a gem of its own to keep it scoreless. Mireles belted a fly to the warning track in right and was rounding first as Breanna Brodie was trying to chase it down.
Brodie, her focus divided between the approaching fence and the ball, stuck her glove out at the last moment and felt the ball hit the webbing.
"That's what they mean by a circus catch," Brodie said. "I didn't see the ball. I turned and started running, took one quick look, and then saw that I was running out of room.
"The way the game was going, I knew one run would be enough to win. I didn't want Hughson getting that run."