Sports

"When life throws curves, Brooke Hilton throws back"

"Brooke Hilton will make one college fastpitch coach's day. And disappoint at least three others.Friday is the first day that high school seniors can sign with colleges. And Hilton has narrowed the field to the University of San Diego, University of Southern Virginia, New Jersey's Rider University, and Towson College (Maryland).While all would involve considerable travel, that's nothing new to the peripatetic Hilton, who has lived in 10 different states.Most recent was Utah before her family moved here during her junior year so her father could take a job with clothing maker Cutter and Buck.During the myriad changes in locales, fastpitch has been a constant in her life. She began playing T-ball when she was age 4, and by the time she was 9 had begun developing her skill as a pitcher with her mother's encouragement.No surprise there.My mom was a pitcher who's played her whole life, she says. Two years later, Hilton played for a coach who reinforced what her mother had been telling her.Oh, Brooke, he told her, If half these 18-year-olds were as good as you are now, they'd be in the Olympics.As a result, she began playing with a competitive traveling team. And soon after moving here, she attended a softball camp at the UW. Coaches there referred her to the then-Diamond Dusters (now the Kitsap Angels) and coaches Bill Garner and Steve Nelson, the latter the current Spartan fastpitch coach.One of the benefits of being on this elite team was going to major tournaments in the Western U.S., including one in Colorado staged for the benefit of more than 200 college coaches. It offered a showcase for Hilton to display her wares.With all those coaches watching, the young pitchers took the mound one at a time.We threw three fastballs, a changeup, then our three best pitches, she says.For those three best, Hilton had half a dozen in her repertoire to choose from: fastball, change, rise, drop, curve and screwball.With each team guaranteed eight games after the initial evaluations, all those coaches had ample opportunity to watch potential signees in game action.Hilton's performance generated more than 10 letters of interest, from which she winnowed her list to four. She's leaning toward Southern Virginia.It's an LDS (Latter- day Saints) school, so it has my standards and stuff like that, she says. And it's a small school with smaller classes.Quality of classes is important to her, as she plans on becoming a special education teacher and has already spent considerable time volunteering in the special ed program at Sakai School.In the meantime, there's this year's fastpitch season to complete.Brooke will pitch the lion's share of games, Nelson says. And as the team's only senior, she'll be a role model and steadying influence for an exceptionally young group that inlcudes four freshmen.She'll also be playing with the Kitsap Angels, which provides a higher level of competition. Nelson isn't worried that she'll wear herself out.Fastpitch is a natural motion, he says. Girls can pitch three or four games in a weekend.Hilton estimates that she pitches at least 45-50 games a year, and that number isn't likely to decrease in college.She'll play two seasons, fall ball from late September to the end of November, then a regular season from February until past the end of classes in June - even longer, if her team advances to the post-season. And how about the Olympics, that germ planted seven years ago?It used to be a dream of mine, she says. But you never know. If I keep improving...But there's an even more important criterion: I'll keep playing until I'm done. As long as it's fun. "

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