Pitching a perfect game in baseball or softball is a rarity. Having a perfect game from the batter's box is far more common, but still a difficult feat. Going perfect from the plate for an entire season? Now that's impossible, but Brooke Louwagie tried her hardest to attain perfection during a phenomenal senior season.
The Marshall Tigers shortstop was closer to perfect than anyone in the area when she had a bat in her hands. The numbers she put up in 2013 were borderline absurd. Louwagie's .584 batting average was 60 percentage points higher than the next-best in the area, her 38 RBIs were tops by 16, her eight home runs were nearly as many as the rest of the area's players combined and she also led the way with 10 doubles.
Then there's Louwagie's slugging percentage. It was 1.052 - double what would be considered a great number.
Even when she had strong games at the plate, it was the missed chances that made Louwagie push harder. A lone pop up or groundout in a game were means of motivation for the 2013 Independent Player of the Year.
"I just always want to be the best I can be," Louwagie said. "There's always something I can improve on. So if I go 3-for-4, I still have to work on that one that I missed."
Louwagie's hitting seemed to be contagious on a team predominately comprised of underclassmen. Most of the Tigers were timid at the plate last season and the lack of offense contributed to a rough 6-15 record. They started out hot this year and just kept rolling, increasing their number of runs per game from 4.2 to 8.4 on their way to a 12-10 mark.
While Louwagie has been a strong hitter basically every year she has been on the varsity team, she too saw marked improvement coming off a junior year in which she hit .491. Marshall head coach Jack Houseman said the team took on Louwagie's mentality at the plate this year which led to the increased production.
"We worked with the team as a whole in being patient at the plate and Brooke trusted us enough to let it happen for her," Houseman said. "She wasn't going up there guessing at which pitch to hit. She went deep into counts to get more quality pitches to hit.
"The team waited to see what she would do and would see Brooke hit the ball hard against very good pitchers and they would think, 'Hey, we can do that, too.'"
Louwagie hit against everyone, from weaker teams to the strongest in the state. In a May 7 doubleheader against Southwest Conference rival Worthington she went 3-for-4 in the first game with two home runs and eight RBIs, following it up with a 3-for-4 performance and another homer. She even blasted a home run over the left-centerfield fencing in a May 13 home game against the now back-to-back Class AA champion New Ulm Eagles.
Judging by her power numbers, Louwagie obviously possesses plenty of strength. She said she has been lifting and working out ever since junior high to stay in shape and the power is visible while watching the ferocity with which she swings the bat.
In the past, Louwagie said she used to rely a little too much on her strength, something she adjusted this year.
"I used to use all upper body and this year I learned to use my hips more, too. That really helped my swing," she said.
Another factor that Louwagie said helped Marshall's batting overall was the long layoff before the team's first game, caused by winter weather that spilled into the spring sports season. With 38 practices before their first game, Louwagie said the Tigers got in plenty of work in the batting cages to hone their technique.
In the field, Louwagie switched from third base to shortstop this season and snagged just about everything that came her way. Her strong arm also allowed her to throw out some runners who would normally be safe on infield hits.
Houseman said Louwagie's willingness to switch to a new position is part of a long list of traits that make her a consummate team player.
"We say your big arm is at short, but for a number of years she played third fearlessly," Houseman said. "She'd do whatever you wanted her to do. She committed and had total dedication to whatever was asked of her.
"She's just a competitor. Even as a freshman she would outrun everyone in practice, even if the seniors weren't too happy about it. She was always committed to do her best."
Louwagie was pleasantly surprised to see her personal success translate into some team success in her final year as a Marshall Tiger. She said she wasn't sure what to expect coming into the season for a team that was so young, but couldn't have asked for a much better outcome.
"I knew our pitchers had experience with a year under their belts and I knew we were really young, so I just figured it would be a good learning year," Louwagie said. "It actually went great. All of the girls really got better throughout the season and it was good."
While Louwagie will be saying goodbye to Marshall High School as she moves on to college, she won't be saying goodbye to softball. Last November, Louwagie signed a letter of intent to play at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, S.D., where she will go to study athletic training.
Over the summer, Louwagie is involved in a fastpitch league and has also been helping teach younger kids the game she loves. Houseman said he always tells the budding softball players to watch how hard Louwagie swings the bat, and hopes some of her work ethic and dedication will rub off on them, too.
Working with the youngsters has been an experience Louwagie has thoroughly enjoyed.
"When they listen to you and they do it and they improve, it's just a great feeling that you get," Louwagie said.