State

All-District Softball: Escalon's Brooks, Johansen's Perez a cut above the rest

Two down and one to go.

That's Caitlin Brooks' plan after taking Escalon High to a second straight Sac-Joaquin Division 5 softball crown.

"This year was a lot harder because everyone was giving us their best game, they were ready for us," the junior said. "We lose a lot of seniors, so we have to work out butts off in practice. We want a third."

Only two teams in the Stanislaus District have won three straight section titles -- Linden (1980-82) and Le Grand (2007-09) -- so the odds are going to be against the Cougars.

Brooks will be playing for a personal three-peat, too, after being selected The Bee's 2010 Softball Player of the Year for the second straight season.

She is one of six players to win the award in two consecutive seasons. The only three-time winner is Davis' Cyndi Hewitt, who was Player of the Year in 1988, 1990 and 1991.

Johansen sophomore Elizabeth Perez, who beat two of the nation's top teams while leading the Vikings to the Sac-Joaquin Section Division 1 final, is the Pitcher of the Year.

Brooks, who hit a walk-off three-run homer in the ninth inning of the section final, has a bit of advice for Perez.

"There will be some jealousy next year, and people from other teams will try to knock you," Brooks said. "There's a lot of drama that goes into the sport, so try to avoid all of it.

"Spend the offseason working harder than you ever did before, because everyone else is working hard to beat you."

They'll have to work extra hard to keep Brooks from winning a third title, because the Sacramento State-bound hurler just keeps getting better.

She led the state with 390 strikeouts, averaging two an inning, while going 26-2 with a 0.11 ERA. She has 929 career strikeouts in three seasons, going 67-12 with a 0.30 ERA.

"I was more confident this season, knowing I was better prepared because of the work I put in with (pitching coach) Jimmy Dyson," said Brooks.

The emphasis included getting more movement on pitches and throwing to different locations in the strike zone. That contributed to Brooks' 12 no-hitters and helped limit foes to a .057 batting average.

Her finest moment came in the section final, a two-hitter with one walk in nine innings vs. the district's most potent small-school lineup.

Her homer produced the only runs in the section final.

"I love to hit, because there isn't the stress you get while pitching," said Brooks, who batted .402 with four homers.

Perez beat top teams

Perez didn't swing a bat for Johansen, but she was the cornerstone of a team that beat the Nos. 2- and 3 clubs in California in the playoffs.

It's no coincidence that Dyson is also her pitching coach.

"Strength and consistency are big with Jimmy," Perez said. "It's not about throwing as hard as you can, it's about the movement of the pitch."

Perez went 23-5 with a 0.62 ERA, with 210 strikeouts and 44 walks in 168 innings. Instead of overpowering batters, she gets them to swing at bad pitches.

"My spin has become much tighter because I'm doing a better job snapping my wrist as I release the ball," said Perez, who is pitching for the 18-and-under Grapettes this summer. "We're going to a number of showcase tournaments where college coaches will be watching us. This will be an important summer."

Perez didn't equal Brooks' strikeouts, but she was as effective. She had four one-hitters and seven two-hitters, and seven times struck out 10 or more batters.

When recruiters come calling, they're going to be as interested in her academics as her ability to fire a softball.

"Sometimes I do homework between games, or take books with me and do homework on a bus ride," said Perez, who has 3.4 GPA. "I really want to pitch in the Pac-10. I love the intensity of their games. I've got to get the grades, though, if I want to be pitching there."

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