BY GARY HAWKINS

For the first time in nine years Bri Brochu isn’t playing summer softball. Instead, the recent Gardiner Area High School graduate is recovering from surgery for a torn labrum in her left shoulder.

Brochu could have foregone the recently completed high school softball season and had her surgery earlier, but she instead decided to play through the pain and discomfort.

As Gardiner’s only senior, Brochu led the young Tigers to an 8-8 record and a Class B playoff appearance. Along the way she stole 40 bases in 40 attempts, batted .627 and didn’t strike out during the regular season.

For her efforts, Brochu is the Kennebec Journal Softball Player of the Year. Also considered was Richmond junior Meranda Martin, who led the Bobcats to an unbeaten season and a Class D state championship.

Brochu dislocated her shoulder in November, again in preseason and began the season with her arm in a sling.

“She wanted to play in the first game,” said Don Brochu, her father and coach.

Brochu missed the first game, but played the rest of them while taking precautions to protect her injured shoulder. Her father moved her from the infield to the outfield and she was careful sliding into bases.

“I would just try to keep it tucked under my body,” Brochu said.

Brochu’s presence alone in the lineup inspired a roster that included eight freshmen, three sophomores and an experienced catcher in junior Julia Nadeau.

“As we trained through the winter we always talked about leadership,” Don Brochu said. “She would speak to players in practice.”

Added Bri of the younger players: “I did the best I could to get them to keep their heads up.”

A sweet-swinging lefty hitter, Brochu continued to bat leadoff for the Tigers and went her first few games of the season without making an out. She showed a little power with two homers, two triples and six doubles, but she is essentially a gap hitter who uses the power alleys. And she’s not afraid to bunt for base hits. Her dad said he’s coached faster players than his daughter but few that knew the game better, especially when it comes to running the bases.

“I grew up with him being my coach,” Bri said. “He didn’t even have to give me signs. I read the ball pretty well coming out of the pitcher’s hand.”

Brochu stole home a few times this season and in one game against Nokomis helped the Tigers avoid the mercy rule when she stole second, third and home in the same sequence.

Playing the outfield was relatively new for Brochu, who has generally played second base and this season was scheduled to play short before she re-injured her shoulder.

“I actually really liked it,” said Brochu, who played center field. “It’s kind of fun.”

She figures it will enhance her chances of breaking into the lineup at Husson University next spring. She’ll miss fall ball because her recovery time is estimated to take six months, but coach Terren Hall placed her on the spring anyway.

“She told me I’ll have to earn my way onto the team,” Brochu said.

Brochu’s surgery on June 16 required three screws to help keep her shoulder in place. She wore a sling for four weeks and will have to wait awhile before resuming any sort of athletic activity. She admitted that her shoulder got worse and may have led to more bunt attempts.

“My shoulder was getting weaker and weaker,” she said. “I couldn’t swing very hard”

Had she opted for an operation in preseason, Brochu might have been to play fall ball at Husson, but she had no regrets over her decision to play her final year at Gardiner.

“I was pleased with it,” she said.

Don Brochu knows his daughter well and stands by her decision.

“We’ve been father/daughter, coach/daughter all our lives,” he said. “Her biggest attribute is keeping calm, not getting overwhelmed.”