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Brewer is L-U Softball Player of the Year

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By Seth Whitehead

It seemed the softball gods were playing a cruel joke on Mulberry Grove's Rachel Brewer.

Long known for terrorizing opposing pitchers, the hard-hitting Brewer suddenly felt her adversaries' pain shortly after ace Brittany Crandell suffered a torn rotator cuff in the Lady Aces' season-opener this past spring.

Not only was Brewer facing a senior season once on course for uncharted success potentially capsizing without Crandell leading the way from the pitcher's circle - coach John Barnes was asking Brewer to keep the Lady Aces ship from sinking by filling a role he admits does not fit her personality.

"She's real quiet," said Barnes of a player who's let her bat do the talking throughout her career. "She'd rather prefer it if her role in a game were never mentioned in the newspaper.

"It's not her style at all to be the center of attention as a pitcher."

But Barnes had few options, so he proceeded to ask Brewer to fill the role of de facto ace.

The request clearly caught Brewer off guard, and Barnes' fears were initially justified.

"I was not expecting it at all," said Brewer of pitching. "I was terrified."

Fortunately for the Lady Aces, that initial shock and anxiety started to subside at the Fairfield Tournament in mid-March.

Brewer went on to more than hold her own until her little sister, freshman Joanna Brewer, took over late in the season, leading Mulberry Grove to its second regional title in three years and first-ever victory in sectional competition.

And it is for that reason that Brewer's work in the pitcher's circle played as big a role in her being selected The Leader-Union's 2008 Softball Player of the Year as her usual standout hitting.

Pitching for the first time since junior high, Brewer overcame her early misgivings to post a more-than-respectable 12-5 record with a 2.93 ERA.

Those numbers made her .543 batting average, 22 extra-base hits and 33 RBIs in as many games all the more impressive in what the modest and soft-spoken future Greenville College Panther acknowledged was her best-ever season.

"I think this year was so much better," said Brewer, who saw her average jump by nearly 100 points from a junior season in which she was runner-up for L-U player of the year honors.

"It was hard to concentrate on both hitting and pitching. Still, I did what I had to do for the team."

Brewer's willingness to do what was best for the team - despite how much she clearly felt uncomfortable in doing so - is just one trait Barnes says made her a special player in his program.

"That's where she leads," said Barnes, pointing toward the field and batting cages during one of his program's well-documented three-hour practices.

Brewer's work ethic - she often stayed up to two hours after those grueling practices - is something Barnes feels will be more irreplaceable than her considerable hitting skills.

"Am I gonna have a girl who practices five hours a day and still manages to get her homework done?" Barnes said. "Probably not."

For Brewer, the most obvious byproduct of all that work has been her unique hitting talents. Very few girls at any level can hit a softball as hard as Brewer.

"She's one of the best power-hitting girls I've ever seen," Barnes said. "She's a show-stopper."

And despite her success in the pitcher's circle last spring, Brewers' hitting is the reason she'll be playing at Greenville College next year.

It's a perfect destination, considering Brewer's primary motivation during her high school career - emulating her sister Emily.

"She's awesome," said Brewer of her older sibling and soon-to-be teammate. "I always wanted to be exactly like her."

Barnes has little doubt that Rachel's wish will continue to come to fruition.

"I have no doubt in my mind that Rachel will excel (in college)," Barnes said. "I've had a Brewer on the team ever since I've been here, and they're all the same.

Rachel was a worker, and she learned from her sister (Emily) and it's rubbed off on her other sister (Joanna). And they all learned from their parents. It's contagious."