By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
HARRISON TOWNSHIP – Now that Brooke Nadolny has set the state record for career home runs, the senior from Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse is taking aim at the national record.
Nadolny, 18, entered this season with 54 home runs, one behind 2018 Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard graduate Julia Kennedy. On April 9, Nadolny tied the record in the Lancers’ opener, a 4-2 victory over Warren Cousino. Four days later Nadolny hit No. 56 to break it in an 8-5 victory over Marysville. She added No. 57 during the second game of that doubleheader.
That’s three home runs over the first five games of the season, and she needs 19 more to set the national record. Kasey Flores, a 2018 graduate of Eastlake High in El Paso, Texas, owns that achievement with 75.
At this point, if Nadolny does set the national record it shouldn’t be a surprise. She hit 22 home runs with 57 RBI as a sophomore, and last season drove a state-record 26 with 58 RBI. Lydia Goble, a senior last season at Schoolcraft, also hit 26.
Nadolny is amazed by what’s taken place over the past two-plus seasons. She said she doesn’t try to hit home runs. Her objective is to hit the ball hard – and if it goes over the fence, all the better.
“It was exciting,” she said of setting the state record. “It was never in my mindset setting the state record. We didn’t think I’d get this close. I realize it’s rare for someone to get so many home runs. I can’t believe it’s me, that it’s happening to me.”
We need a look at history to give some perspective on the recent power surge in this sport. The pace at which home runs are being hit is at an all-time high. Prior to 2012 only one player, Melinda Van Gillis of Pentwater, had hit 18 home runs in a season. Since then 11 players have hit 18 or more, and a couple have accomplished this feat twice.
Some coaches and hitting instructors say there are two main reasons for the increase in home run production. One is that more players are taking full swings rather than employing the slap-hitting style many others continue to use. The second is a rule change that took place in 2011 that increased the distance from the pitching rubber to the plate from 40 to 43 feet. But even with that change, it took time for the batters to make an adjustment.
For her part, Nadolny doesn’t picture herself as a home run hitter – although there have been few in this state who could be considered at her power-hitting level.
She hit only six home runs as the starting second baseman as a freshman but, stepping back, that’s a good showing for a hitter making the transition from middle school softball to a varsity squad playing in Division 1. Nadolny stood 5 feet, 4 inches then, but experienced a growth spurt (adding three inches; she stands 5-7½ now) between her freshman and sophomore year – and her numbers took off.
She’s not had what might be described as formal or specialized training. She’s never had a hitting instructor, and she said she learned the basics while attending a hitting camp at age 6.
“I’m more experienced now,” she said. “I’m stronger. More things are coming together. I can’t pinpoint one thing. It’s everything. I’m kind of self-taught. It’s natural. It’s the naturalness of it. I’ve never changed (my swing). I’ve seen videos of softball players, (but) I really haven’t changed anything.
“I don’t think about hitting a home run. My travel coach (Jim Beard, who is also the head coach at Macomb College) said my swing looks so effortless.”
Perhaps that is the core reason. Hitting a softball just comes naturally for Nadolny. It’s timing. It’s muscle memory.
Lisa Downey, who played softball at Harper Woods Bishop Gallagher, is in her 25th season as the head coach at L’Anse Creuse. She takes no credit for Nadolny’s power surge. Downey said athletes born with that natural ability come around every so often.
“It’s a gift,” Downey said. “She was born with an amazing talent. She has superfast hands. Her hand-eye coordination is excellent. When she hits it, it just takes off.”
Among all of these home runs have been a number of special moments. On May 17 of last season, Nadolny homered in her first two at bats against Fraser and then came to bat with the bases loaded and was intentionally walked. Also during last season, she homered three times in a game twice and twice homered in three consecutive at bats.
Perhaps her most important dinger, as far as her team is concerned, came in the seventh inning of a Division 1 Regional Semifinal matchup last season against Clinton Township Chippewa Valley at Macomb Dakota. The score was tied 2-2, and Nadolny’s homer gave the Lancers a 3-2 victory and a shot at powerful Warren Regina in the Regional Final.
Regina prevailed 12-11, giving Nadolny yet another goal.
“(That loss) was hard,” she said. “It is what it is. I want to help my team get to states.
“It would be awesome if I pass (my personal record) again and get the national record. It’s possible, but I don’t stress myself out about it.”
L’Anse Creuse was 29-8 last season and the Lancers won the Macomb Area Conference Blue title and then moved up to the White this season.
Adding to this scenario, Nadolny has added responsibilities as a senior. This is her second season serving as captain, and she’s moved up to No. 1 in the pitching rotation after being slotted at No. 2 last season behind Sammi Mills (now the starting catcher at Central Michigan University).
Nadolny knows she has to be focused this season, much more than in the past. A volleyball player her first three years of high school, Nadolny opted not to play her senior season to fully commit to softball. She signed with Wayne State University and it’s possible she’ll pitch in college in addition to playing shortstop, her position at L’Anse Creuse when she’s not in the circle. She also may play outfield at the college level.
“I’m glad she signed early,” Downey said. “There’s a lot of pressure on a kid so young. She’ll pitch more (this season), which is even more pressure.
"(Wayne State) is a good fit for her. She’s family-oriented. She wanted to stay close to home. She seems very happy now that it’s out of the way. I only have two seniors, and she’s the one I go to. The good teams are player driven, and she’s our engine.”
So far that ‘engine’ is running in top form this season. Nadolny is off to a terrific start, in the circle and at the plate. She’s 4-0 (her team is 5-0) and batting .611 with those three home runs and eight RBI.
Tom Markowski is a correspondent for the State Champs! Sports Network and previously directed its web coverage. He also covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Harrison Township L’Anse Creuse’s Brooke Nadolny prepares for her turn at bat. (Middle) Nadolny holds up the ball from her record-breaking home run. (Top photo courtesy of C&G Newspapers; bottom courtesy of the Nadolny family.)