Thursday, September 20, 2018

Sports

Baseball player of year: Old Abes senior Jack Brown was lights out

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    Eau Claire Memorial pitcher Jack Brown is the 2018 Leader-Telegram baseball player of the year.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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  • ED-MemorialBaseball-1a-060118

    Memorial’s Jack Brown looks in before throwing a pitch against Chippewa Falls on May 31.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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  • dr-North-Abe-49a-051618

    Memorial's Cooper Kapanke, left, congratulated pitcher Jack Brown after he pitche six scoreless innings against North during baseball on May 15, 2018. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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It’s a familiar feeling for hitters across the Big Rivers Conference.

There stands Eau Claire Memorial pitcher Jack Brown, peering in from the mound, waiting for a sign from the catcher.

He’d get one he liked, go through his windup, and moments later he’d get the result that left plenty of opponents shaking their heads all spring long.

Swing and a miss. Strike three.

The Memorial senior made hitter after hitter miss this season, compiling a 4-1 record to go along with a 0.97 ERA. He struck out 51 batters in 43 innings. It culminated in him being named third-team all-state by the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association, the BRC pitcher of the year and the WisSports.net senior pitcher of the year.

Add one more accolade to that list. Brown is the Leader-Telegram baseball player of the year.

The senior had a standout season for the Old Abes, but he’s quick to credit others for helping him achieve his success.

“The preparation that we put into pitching before the game with my pitching coach (Jeff) Janot and working with my catchers during practices throwing bullpen, and then just trusting my defense behind me was the key thing,” Brown said.

Brown brought a steady presence to the Memorial mound. When he trotted out there for a start, the Abes knew what they were going to get.

“Coaches have to juggle a lot of variables from game to game, so it’s always nice to have a constant. Jack was a constant,” Memorial coach Dan Roehl said. “Every week I knew I could hand Jack the ball and he would give seven innings and give us a great chance to win.”

The Old Abes came into the season with high hopes for their pitching staff. Brown, a Minnesota State-Mankato recruit, was expected to team up with East Carolina recruit Zach Gustafson to form a knockout 1-2 punch.

When Gustafson suffered an injury before the season that kept him sidelined, Brown and the rest of the Old Abes had to rework the rotation.

“When Zach went down, it was definitely a worry,” Brown said. “But I feel like everyone had to step up, and our whole pitching staff did the job.”

Brown certainly pulled his weight. He was strong all season, perhaps best showcased in a seven-inning no-hitter against Menomonie on May 22. He struck out 12 in that game. In the regional finals against Chippewa Falls, he brought more of his best. Brown one-hit the Cardinals and struck out seven batters in six innings.

A pitcher can sometimes live and die by his defense, especially in the high school game. Brown was comfortable with his all year long.

“I feel like playing with the defense behind me, they trusted me and I trusted them,” he said. “So I was able to throw my pitches when I wanted to, but without them I wouldn’t be able to be my best. I’d be struggling if I couldn’t trust them, but I can.”

Brown leaves an impressive legacy behind at Memorial. In addition to this year’s accolades, he was named second-team All-Big Rivers as a junior and was on two sectional runner-up teams over the course of his career.

“Jack was one of the very few pitchers to get time at the varsity level as a freshman,” Roehl said. “He has made the most of every opportunity since then and leaves Memorial as one of the most accomplished and decorated pitchers ever to wear our jersey.”

After finishing up his summer season with the Eau Claire Legion baseball team, Brown will head to Minnesota State looking to make an impact with the Mavericks.

“I’m really happy with my commitment to Mankato. I feel like it’s a great spot for me. I’m hoping to get some playing time as a freshman and just try to tear up the conference,” he said.

If his prep career is anything to go on, the Old Abes think that could be a distinct possibility.

“I speak for the entire coaching staff when I say that it was a privilege to coach him, and I know his future at Minnesota State is very bright,” Roehl said.


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