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'You win it once, try and win it again'

National honor 'an amazing feeling,' but KU pitcher Katie Brooks gives all the credit to her team

5 min read
KU junior Katie Brooks fires a pitch to the plate during Game 3 of the Jayhawks' home sweep of No. 13 Baylor earlier this month. [Kansas Athletics photo]

For most pitchers, picking up a win a week puts you on pace to have a pretty solid season.

But Kansas pitcher Katie Brooks drastically outdid that clip earlier this month, when she picked up three wins in a single week — one against Wichita State and two against 13th-ranked Baylor — to earn National Pitcher of the Week honors from D1 Softball.

The junior from Bolivar, Missouri, tossed 17 shutout innings in the three 7-inning games, giving up 17 hits and just 3 runs while striking out 9 during her busy week.

And it all went according to plan.

A self-proclaimed “pitch-to-contact” pitcher, Brooks has spent most of her KU career emphasizing finding different ways to get outs. She’s not overpowering and doesn’t try to be. She has no ego whatsoever. And she’s just as happy with a boring old groundball out as a loud strikeout.

“She’s been absolutely stellar. She’s a game-changer for us. And she’s just one of the grittiest players on our team..." — KU catcher Lyric Moore on teammate Katie Brooks

“High school ball was really the only time I was a strikeout pitcher,” she said of her BHS career, which included setting the single-season school-record with 255 strikeouts. “Now, I’m more concerned with beating batters with spin than I am speed. It really comes down to the defense making routine plays that should be made and also making plays that aren’t necessarily routine and busting their butts to go get those balls.”

As someone who operates with that philosophy, Brooks believes the recent national honor was something her teammates earned as much as she did.

“It was really cool; it’s an amazing feeling,” she said. “But it is a team sport, and getting that award wouldn’t be possible without my teammates at the plate and behind me on defense.”

While appreciative of the team-first mentality, KU catcher Lyric Moore said Brooks deserves to bask in the spotlight a little with this one.

“KB’s being super-humble, super-sweet, giving us all the credit, but that’s all her. “I give her all the credit,” Moore told R1S1 Sports. “She’s been absolutely stellar. She’s a game-changer for us. And she’s just one of the grittiest players on our team – just her attitude, the way she composes herself. She’s always been like that, but it’s just elevated this year.”

Part of the reason for Brooks taking the next step has been her ability to stay healthy.

The psychology major came to college with a forearm injury — compartment syndrome, a painful condition caused by pressure buildup from internal bleeding or swelling of tissues — that plagued her on and off for her first two seasons as a Jayhawk and required a lot of rest for long periods of time.

But she has been able to put that behind her this year and is instead focusing all of her attention that used to go to rehab and treatment to growing her craft and preparing for opponents.

“I’m a totally different person,” she said.

KU's Katie Brooks eyes the plate as she prepares to pitch during a home win over Baylor earlier this season at Arrocha Ballpark. [Kansas Athletics photo]

She’s also exactly where she believes she should be, which was not exactly automatic throughout high school.

See, Brooks committed to play softball at Florida State as an eighth-grader and stayed committed until the fall of her senior season. It was then — after the COVID-19 pandemic encouraged her to look a little differently at her future — that she de-committed from FSU and quickly found a home at Kansas.

Because Bolivar is just 160 miles south of KU’s campus, Brooks had made past visits to the school in the past, before current Kansas coach Jennifer McFalls took the job. So, she had a decent feel for the lay of the land in Lawrence.

“I realized I wanted to stay close to home,” Brooks said. “And as soon as coach McFalls heard that I was going to de-commit from Florida State, she gave me a call as soon it was official and offered me. As soon as she offered me, I knew that I wanted to come here.”

Brooks does not regret anything about the way she arrived at Kansas. She’s just happy she’s here now. She’s also glad that recruiting rule changes in the sport have made it more difficult for college coaches to take commitments from players as young as she was when she committed to FSU.

“That’s an age when you don’t really know why you’re going to a school, you’re just going for the softball aspect,” she said. “When, in reality, it’s way bigger than the softball aspect. One thing that really drew me here was the family aspect. It really is a huge family.”

And there’s a huge family gathering at Arrocha Ballpark this weekend, as the 24th-ranked Jayhawks welcome No. 1 Oklahoma to town for a three-game series, Thursday through Saturday.

Brooks and her 10-2 record and team-leading 1.89 ERA will be on the mound for a good chunk of it, and the crafty righty won’t be thinking about her recent national honor for a single second.

“For me, when it came out, I told myself, ‘All right, the work gets harder now. You have even higher expectations to live up to, so keep working hard,’” she said. “You win it once, try and win it again.”

Beating Oklahoma (31-1 overall, 9-0 Big 12) would go a long way toward making that happen.

KU (22-8-1, 7-2) has not defeated the Sooners since 2016, but this group has the confidence, chemistry and talent to make a run at it this weekend.

“We just need to stay within ourselves, like we have been – don’t let the stage be bigger than what it is,” Brooks said. “It’s just another Big 12 series.”

First pitch on Thursday is slated for 5 p.m. KU and OU also will square off at 5 p.m. Friday and then again at noon on Saturday in the series finale.

Jayhawks jacked to take on top-ranked Sooners ⬇️

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