Click Here for Full Story and Audio from the Interview with Brooke Loudermilk at the Chattanooga Times Free Press Website
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's newest softball pitching sensation is making her mark on the Lady Mocs' and Southern Conference record books in her first season of college play.
Brooke Loudermilk, of Locust Grove, Ga., south of Atlanta, has had a very strong year for UTC, posting a 19-10 record and notching an impressive 238 strikeouts through last weekend's series against Elon, where UTC won two of three games to improve to 30-26 overall and 11-4 in the SoCon. They are tied for first with the College of Charleston.
Earlier this week, Loudermilk was honored as SoCon pitcher of the week for the second time this season, and she ranks 39th in the nation for strikeouts per nine innings and 26th in the country for most wins.
She sits at No. 3 on the single season strikeouts list for both the Southern Conference and UTC, trailing only one UTC pitcher. That former pitcher happens to be her pitching coach, Lacey Swarthout, who holds the top two spots at 331 and 282 strikeouts from her two seasons at UTC in 2004-05.
For all her accomplishments, head coach Frank Reed says he is more impressed with the personal qualities Loudermilk brings to the team and to UTC.
"She gives us so much on the field as far as her ability to do what she does," Reed said this week. "But the neat thing about her is she is such an awesome person off the field.
"To get her to come along (as a freshman) has been a blessing, and I think it reflects into our wins."
Needless to say, Loudermilk has made a smooth transition from high school to college softball. And she has found that both she and the Lady Mocs are able to compete with some of the best programs in the country.
"We work just as hard compared to the big schools," she said.
Loudermilk says the biggest difference and challenge she's faces since moving to collegiate play is the quality of hitters she faces.
"The pitching has to get better because of the hitters," she said. "The hitters are a lot better in college. On 0-2 and 1-2 -- and I should know this more than anybody -- you can't leave something hanging."
Swarthout says that coaching Loudermilk has been a fairly easy process because of the maturity she brings to the field both in practice and on game day.
"As far as work ethic, she's definitely overperformed," Swarthout said. "I know every day when we get to practice that she's going to work hard for me every practice and give me everything she has."
Swarthout says that despite differences in body shape and pitching styles, she sees similar qualities in Loudermilk to those she had for UTC.
"I think we carry ourselves the same on the field," she said. "Other than like me knowing her, I don't think you can tell when she gets shaken up. I can tell because I know her form. But I think she hides her emotions like I did. That's one thing everybody always said about me."
Loudermilk also credits UTC's senior pitcher Ashley Frizzell for helping her make such a smooth transition to college ball. From on-the-field advice to just easing the transition to college, Loudermilk says Frizzell has been a huge help.
"We work well together," Loudermilk says. "She's helped a lot."
For her part, Frizzell says Swarthout has done a good job of letting Loudermilk take advantage of the talents she brought to UTC without trying to make her into a different pitcher.
"Other pitchers I've seen go through this mental block where the pitching coach tries to beat them down and make them into the pitcher they want them to be," Frizzell said at practice this week. "But Lacey's just let her be who she was. And that helps a lot."
Reed also says that Frizzell's influence has helped Loudermilk and has helped UTC have such a successful season to this point. Reed says Loudermilk's success has put the team in position for post-season success.
"Knowing that we have two quality pitchers we can throw out there on the mound, and to have a freshman step up in that leadership role is not something you expect early," Reed said. "And she did that early and gave us an opportunity to be where we are today."
As UTC's regular season winds down and the team prepares for their final home stand this weekend against Furman, Swarthout says that Loudermilk can help the team when the Southern Conference tournament begins May 9 in Greensboro, N.C., and beyond if the Lady Mocs can win the conference tournament.
"I think she's a great pitcher and I think she can definitely carry the team to a conference tournament and overall conference win," Swarthout said. "There's no doubt in my mind she could help us in (NCAA) regionals."
As for Reed, he says the best is yet to come for his young pitcher.
"I still see her as that young pitcher," Reed said. "I can see her doubling her strikeouts next year. I can see her far surpassing what she's done this year."