ELLETSVILLE — It wasn’t supposed to happen this way, Emma Summers getting wrapped with ice and knocking the dirt of her cleats and taking her scouting report out of her wristband and putting it away, because she wouldn’t need it again. This isn’t the script that one of the best pitchers in the state had envisioned – her season ending without a sectional title. Again.
But that’s how it works sometimes, and it’s what causes the Brown County (Nashville, Ind.) junior to say with resolve: “It’s not going to happen again.”
While one game ended a season, one game doesn’t define one. And it’s worth appreciating what’s going on with Brown County, and with Emma Summers, because it might be a while before we see something like it again. That is, unless she does it all again next season.
Summers is a softball lifer, having played since she was seven. She’s won three national titles with her travel team, Shockwaves-Perry. She’s a Division I commit, and will attend Loyola-Chicago after she graduates in 2020. During her freshman year, she had a 1.18 ERA with a perfect game in her third high school start. Last season, her ERA dropped to 0.86 as she struck out 236 batters in 129.2 innings.
A 0.49 ERA (nine earned runs in 129.2 innings). 249 strikeouts. Just 11 walks. Just 46 hits allowed. Five no-hitters. Fourteen shutouts. At the plate, she batted .403 with 13 runs driven in.
According to MaxPreps, she leads the state in no-hitters, is second in strikeouts, and is second in ERA among pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched.
How does she do it?
It’s a lot of stuff you don’t see, and probably a lot of stuff you wouldn’t think of. It’s the countless hours of preparation – not just physical, but mental. It comes in the form of car rides with her dad, Troy, where they break down what went well and what went poorly in a start – pitch-by-pitch. How can she attack them differently next time? Was she too aggressive when she didn’t need to be? Should she have adjusted location? Pitch-type?
“Yeah the numbers look good, but you don’t see the effort she puts in to keeping those numbers where they are,” her dad said. “Most of our drive time we spend talking about scenarios. A lot of pitchers probably can’t just talk through it. We get some physical work done, but a lot of it is approach.”
She’ll have the same conversations with Brown County coach Kevin Greve.
“She’ll bring up a mistake she makes. Maybe just one or two pitches in a game. She describes them vividly,” the fifth-year coach said.
Her performance against Northview Thursday was far from her best – six innings, one earned run, 10 hits, five strikeouts and no walks – but she was outperformed by Northview’s Halle Ellis, who pitched a shutout. The end result was a 3-0 loss for the Eagles. But her ability to limit damage was more indicative of her ability than the final score.
A first-inning run scored after an infield single, a sacrifice bunt, a stolen base and a groundout. She stranded base runners in the second, third and fourth innings. Even in the sixth, when Northview had four base hits in five batters to add a pair of insurance runs, Summers stranded two in scoring position. She allowed just one extra-base hit in the game.
It was the third time in three weeks that she had faced the Knights. She shut them out 4-0 in late April and allowed three earned runs in a loss in the conference championship game last week. A bounce here or there, and things might have been different. But even a player of Summers’ caliber can’t do it alone.
“Sometimes she’ll talk about the pressure she feels,” her dad said. “Sometimes I think she puts too much pressure on herself. It’s a team sport. She can’t carry the whole load.”
And despite a tournament shortcoming that extends Brown County’s sectional title drought to 18 seasons, it’s undeniable that Summers has changed the trajectory of the program. She already holds program records in wins, strikeouts and earned run average for a single season. And she makes her teammates better.
“She’s helped other players elevate their game, and it’s made the program elevated,” Greve said. “It gives the expectation of success that the girls strive to meet every day.”
As those around her have risen to her level, Summers has also become more involved in the process, saying she’s “become more a team player” this season in the midst of her individual success. Which makes losing that much harder.
“I have to see a loss as an opportunity,” she said. “I hate losing. But what can I take from this? How can I better myself?”
She’ll have more time than she’d like to ponder the answer to that question. But she’s already thinking ahead.
“This was disappointing, but I have my eyes on next year,” she said. “It’s not going to happen again.”