Sometimes a setback can spur greatness. Such was the case with the 2022 Lake Creek High School (TX) Lions softball team and sterling pitcher / first baseman Ava Brown.
Last year Lake Creek High School was defeated by eventual state champion Barbers Hill High School in the UIL Region III-5A championship series with a trip to the state tournament on the line, but the loss inspired the Lions to complete the mission to the tune of a perfect 41-0 record this season.
“Our motto from the beginning of the year was always unfinished business,” Brown, who will be recognized during the USA TODAY High School Sports Awards national show broadcast premiering on July 31, 2022, said. “We all had that same mindset, from fall workouts, going into spring training and all of our practices after school, it was a very competitive season for all of us. We just wanted to work together and reach the end goal, which was to be state champions.”
Lake Creek High School Head Softball Coach Michelle Rochinski echoed Brown’s sentiments.
“When we lost to Barbers Hill, we closed out saying we were going to have a good shot at doing the same thing in 2022,” she said. “It started from that day we lost in 2021. Throughout the summer the girls continued to work on everything, not just softball, but being in the weight room, conditioning, and speed and agility. We continued to get better day to day.”
At the forefront stood the University of Florida-bound Brown, a junior righthander who posted a 30-0 mark to pair with 335 strikeouts in 183.1 innings pitched and a 0.46 earned run average – while surrendering only 23 walks. She was also adept with the bat, batting .405 with 10 home runs and 43 runs batted in and a .785 slugging percentage.
“I was introduced to the game by my grandpa and my stepdad,” Brown said. “They both played slow pitch softball and baseball. When I was four or five I started playing Tee-Ball and after I got older, I was introduced to competitive softball and started playing for my coach, Nathan Nelson, with the Hotshots organization from the time I was 11 or 12.”
Brown said the sport is therapeutic.
“It’s like my escape from real life,” she said. “When you have a lot of stuff going on, you can get away from all of that. It’s my therapy. If I’m having a bad day or upset, I’ll go hit or throw. It releases my mind from all of the extra stuff that’s going on and I can focus on what’s going on in that moment. I’ve become so grateful for it throughout my career, just because it’s always been there for me.”
Rochinski commended Brown, who sports a 3.48 grade point average, for her ability to maintain a balance while seeking to maximize her potential.
“She’s one of the best teammates you could ask for,” Rochinski said. “She’s a leader and is dedicated to what she does – athletically or academically. She’s got this strong passion for the game that always shows. No matter where you see her, she’s always working to improve on something. She wants people to push her, compete against her. And she finds a way to step up and do whatever it takes for the team.”
Although she has another opportunity to join her Lake Creek teammates in a quest for another state championship, Brown has already selected the site of her heightened academic and athletic pursuits.
“When I showed up on (the University of Florida) campus, it felt like I knew I could make it my home,” she said. “And I knew it was a place where I’d be set up for success. Being not only able to create relationships with some of the players that are there now, but with the coaches, completely sold me.”
Rochinski credits Brown and her teammates for thoroughly embracing the Lake Creek High School softball program’s culture.
“Overall, we have a very strong connection with each other,” Rochinski said. “We have our individual families that we go home to every day, but really, our team – from trainers, to managers to the players and coaches, we are a big family. We just talk about treating each other right, respecting each other, always having each other’s back. They play for each other, the name on the front of the jersey and the community.”