HUGHSON — It's difficult to get a lot of love when you pitch in the Trans-Valley League, where every hurler is compared to Escalon ace Caitlin Brooks.
The Bee's Player of the Year as a sophomore last spring, Brooks established a standard that the TVL had never seen.
"Caitlin is ... well, she's Caitlin," said Escalon coach Dianne Teixera, whose club won the school's first Sac-Joaquin Section softball title last season. "She is better than she was a year ago. She has been working hard in the offseason."
It's a good thing, too, because the Division 5 champions needed every bit of Brooks' excellence during Tuesday's 2-0 TVL win over Hughson. The showdown featured the Stanislaus District's top two small-school teams, as well as two of the region's top pitchers.
Any other day and Hughson's Alyssa Coelho (5-2) could have walked off a winner, after striking out 13 and walking none. She's got wins over large-schools power Johansen and Sonora, and now has 86 strikeouts in just 49 innings.
This was the fifth consecutive start the right-handed Coelho has piled up at least 13 strikeouts, but it looks as if it's going to require near-perfection to beat Brooks and the Cougars this season.
Escalon's (11-1, 2-0) lone loss is 1-0 to Bear River, the three-time defending D-4 champ, and Brooks gave up one hit.
She gave up a hit to Hughson (8-2, 1-1), too, Katelyn Harden's single to right in the fourth. She set down the other 21 batters, striking out 14 and allowing just one other ball out of the infield.
"I played travel ball with the NorCal Shockers and I spent a lot of time working on my changeup," said Brooks, now 11-1 with 10 shutouts and 0.00 ERA.
"I need something that keeps the top hitters from sitting on my fastball. This gives them something to think about."
The Huskies had plenty of time to do that as they trudged back to the dugout.
"I need to remind myself to attack my plant foot and keep my arm ripping up on the changeup," said Brooks, who has 169 Ks in 78 innings. "The changeup came in high a few times and that looks like a grapefruit to a good hitter."
Brooks has verbally committed to Sacramento State and the Hornets have to be as impressed with her GPA — 3.8, while taking classes like trigonometry and chemistry — as her perfect ERA.
She's given up two runs, one to Bear River and another to Ripon Christian while throwing a no-hitter with a season-high 18 strikeouts in a 10-1 victory.