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East's Aleah Brooks set state home run record despite intentional walks

Jun. 6—CHEYENNE — Believe it or not, there's actually a downside to being the most feared hitter in Wyoming high school softball: Intentional walks.

Cheyenne East junior Aleah Brooks officially drew 11 of them this season. Opposing coaches simply told the umpire they were giving her a free pass and sent her to first base without throwing a pitch just shy of a dozen times. Brooks' 23 other walks included several plate appearances where pitchers were hollered at by their coaches if they came close to even sniffing the strike zone.

Brooks understands the strategy. That doesn't mean she likes it.

"If teams weren't just putting me on, they were walking me on pitches," Brooks said. "They were obviously pitching around me and not giving me the chance to hit. That was really frustrating.

"I know they're trying to compete, and I'm a heavy hitter, but I'm also trying to compete and do good things for my team."

Brooks still did plenty of good for the Thunderbirds despite all the free passes, batting .558 (34-for-77) with six doubles, 15 home runs and 49 RBI. Her home run total is a single-season record for the state. Brooks' RBI total ranked third this spring. She had 10 more walks than any other player in the state.

Those efforts helped East go 27-4 and finish as state runners-up for the second consecutive season. They also earned Brooks Cheyenne softball player of the year honors from WyoSports.

"If she sees pitches on those 34 other at-bats and keeps hitting home runs at the same rate, she'd probably have between five and 10 more homers," East coach Adam Galicia said. "She might have had 15-18 more RBI. She'd be leading the state in every offensive category by a landslide if teams had chosen to pitch to her in those at-bats."

The intentional walks didn't start with a trickle, they started with a deluge. Cheyenne South put Brooks on base four times in the first game of an April 2 doubleheader.

"That's when I realized teams weren't going to throw to me, especially in the conference games," Brooks said, referring to the opening game of each doubleheader. "I just didn't think it was going to be as much as it was.

"... I understood the first few teams doing it. Then every team started doing it."

Brooks had six games with three or more walks this spring. As the free passes piled up, East coaches reminded Brooks she could make teams pay for their choice by being a terror on the base paths. Her 21 stolen bases ranked fifth in the state. Brooks was caught stealing just once.

"We were going to score either way," Brooks said.

Naturally, Brooks had to fight the urge to press in an effort to make the most of her opportunities. She noticed herself swinging at pitches on the edges of the strike zone she normally would have let pass. The result was some weak ground balls, some popouts and a few uncharacteristic strikeouts.

"My pitch selection was a little bit worse, or my approach was off," Brooks said. "I was swinging at first-pitch strikes I wouldn't normally swing at. I wasn't waiting for my pitch.

"I was trying to make something happen on a high pitch or a pitch that was just out of the zone."

Galicia describes many of Brooks' 11 strikeouts this season as "frustration strikeouts" that were the byproduct of the intentional walks.

"She wanted to get hits and was taking a hack if it was close," the coach said. "She might have had as many strikeouts this season as she did her first two years combined."

Galicia is two-thirds right, as Brooks posted 16 combined strikeouts across her freshman and sophomore campaigns.

Brooks eventually got to a point where she started being more selective and could return to a line drive swing that also happened to send balls out of the yard at a staggering clip.

"I trusted my training and took good swings at the good pitches when I got them," she said. "I had confidence in myself and thought, 'Yeah, I'm getting walked a lot, but this is what I'm going to do when you're not walking me."

Jeremiah Johnke is the WyoSports editor. He can be reached at jjohnke@wyosports.net or 307-633-3137. Follow him on X at @jjohnke.