ESCALON -- When Caitlin Brooks fired the final pitch to clinch a Sac-Joaquin Section softball championship for Escalon High, it was anything but the finish to her season.
"We've got a busy summer, but it's going to be a lot of fun, too," said Brooks, who just finished her sophomore year.
She will pitch for the NorCal Shockers of Martinez the next three months. A collection of high school all-stars, the Shockers' schedule includes trip to Colorado, Nevada and Southern California.
"Then we hope to go to Oklahoma for the nationals," said the powerful right-hander. "I just can't wait to get started."
Brooks takes plenty of momentum into her summer:
She went 26-3 with a 0.42 ERA, giving up just one homer and 47 hits in 185 innings.
She posted 326 strikeouts, third-best in the Sac-Joaquin Section and No. 11 in California and No. 18 in the nation.
She batted .376, hitting 13 doubles with 22 RBIs, 20 runs scored and three home runs.
By the time the season was over, Brooks and the Cougars had captured the Division V title -- giving Escalon its first-ever girls' section team title.
The dominant performance made Brooks The Bee's softball player of the year. Since she's got two more years to go with the Cougars, there is an opportunity she could be a three-time player of the year.
Six girls have been selected player of the year twice since The Bee published its inaugural all-Stanislaus District softball team in 1987. There has been only one three-time winner: Davis pitcher Cyndi Hewitt in 1998, 1990 and 1991.
How Brooks compares with the district's previous pitching sensations won't be clear for a few years, but she's certainly off to the strong start.
She has 539 strikeouts in just two years, an impressive statistic until you're reminded East Union's Erin Arevalo struck out 492 in 2008 and had 1,528 strikeouts in her career.
She has a section title, but Oakdale's Marissa Drewrey has won two (2005 and 2006).
Arevalo and Drewrey were two-time players of the year.
Clearly, there is no lack of targets for Brooks to hone in on the next couple of years.
While there is no predicting what numbers Brooks might pile up the next two seasons, there is something about her future that is set: She will be pitching at Sacramento State.
"I've given Sac State my verbal commitment. I'm excited about being there in (2012)," said Brooks, who explained her early decision. "I wanted to stay in California and to pitch at a (Division I) school."
The Brooks family sat down in front of a spreadsheet of all the D-I colleges in California, poring over each school's softball and academic programs.
"I've got a 3.8 GPA and taking (Advance Placement) English, and maybe statistics, in the fall, so that's going to be as important as my softball," she said. "Sac State is close to home, but it also showed confidence in me by offering a scholarship to a sophomore,"
The Hornets were 28-23 and second in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference this year.
NCAA rules prevent coaches from discussing players until they sign a letter of intent, and student-athletes can't do that until they are seniors.
Brooks, who recently turned 16, credits pitching coach Jimmy Dyson for improving her pitching during the past year.
"Jimmy does a lot with the mental part of pitching, putting me in situations and seeing how I react," said Brooks, whose fastball has topped out at 63 mph. "One of the things Jimmy teaches is that speed isn't everything.
"The third or fourth time a girl sees you, she can get her timing if all you're throwing is fastballs. You have to keep your ball moving, in and out, up and down, to be effective."