There was no play at the plate so Morgan Brewer had no reason to do anything but step on it as she ran through to give Maryville College the lead.
That’s not how Brewer operates, though. She’s loud. She’s flashy. When she’s on top of her game she’s powerful. In that moment Thursday night she was feeling as great as she has all season and slid into home to add a little swagger to the Scots’ latest tournament victory.
It was the winning play in Maryville’s USA South Athletic Conference first-round doubleheader sweep of Berea College. Advancing to the next round means plenty for the No. 1-seeded Scots (25-9) as they seek their second consecutive tournament title.
Taking a confident Brewer with them to LaGrange College for the rest of the tournament later this week may be the best thing that could happen to them at this point in the season. At her best, the junior third baseman may be the most feared hitter in the conference.
For the first half of the regular season, though, she was far from that. That’s why when she made such a big difference in Thursday’s playoff games she wanted to punctuate the decisive moment with her usual flair for the dramatic.
“That run put us ahead and I was just happy to score,” Brewer said. “It’s been a lot of pressure not doing as well as I normally do, but having the team’s bats behind me has really helped. To be able to score for them was really cool.”
One of the really cool parts of last season was that Brewer, an Alcoa High School graduate, was named the USA South’s Player of the Year. She was the best hitter on one of the best offensive teams the conference has ever seen.
From the lead-off spot, Brewer hit .383 and had an on-base percentage of .459. Seventeen of her 51 hits went for extra bases. She drove in 36 runs, scored 51 runs and stole 19 bases.
Naturally, hopes were high when this season began and once again she was in the lead-off spot for the season opener. That’s when everything began to unravel.
Brewer got one hit in her first six games and struck out six times in 16 at-bats. The fifth game was the first game of a doubleheader against Averett, and she went 0-for-3 with a strikeout. Coach Leah Kelley moved Brewer down in the order for the second game of the doubleheader.
All the way to No. 8.
“It’s always hard moving a kid from a lead-off position down in the order because you never know how they’re going to respond,” Kelley said. “She just wants what is best for her teammates. She knew at that moment that she wasn’t getting the job done. I moved her down to allow her to see some better pitches and take some pressure off of her.
“When you’re in the lead-off position it’s a really fast game. When you move them down it slows down the game a little bit and they can relax without the pressure of being in the lead-off spot.”
It was not a quick fix. Brewer’s slump extended through 17 games. During that time she went 3-for-41 (.073) with four walks and 12 strikeouts.
Brewer said she felt pressure as the reigning Player of the Year and that she thought was receiving more attention from opposing pitchers because of that status. She said her lack of ability to adjust was disappointing.
“She has expectations so high for herself,” senior shortstop Christen Torres said. “She had such a good year last year. She wanted to double it every time she got up to bat. We stayed positive with her and made sure she knew that we believed in her.”
During her slump, Brewer focused on simple things like putting the ball in play and moving runners even if she made an out. She did not let her hitting slump carry over to her defense. In fact, she has been her best in that regard this year.
She had a .916 fielding percentage in her first two seasons. This year she has made three errors in 93 total chances for a fielding percentage of .968.
Eventually, she started hitting. In the second game of a doubleheader against Wesleyan College on March 23 she had her first multi-hit game of the season. The next day she had another two-hit game that included her first double and her second RBI.
In the final 15 games of the regular season she went 12-for-35 (.343). It all came together in Thursday’s doubleheader against Berea. Brewer went 5-for-6 with one triple, one double, one walk, three runs scored, two RBIs and two stolen bases.
During the second game, Kelley asked Brewer what had gotten into her that day. Simply put, Brewer told her, it’s tournament time. Nothing she did early in the season is weighing on her anymore.
“It would be awesome to finally be back to who I was the past two years,” Brewer said. “I want my seniors to go as long as they can because I am really going to miss them. I want to play with them as long as I can. Producing will help the team and keep that going.”