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Baranek: Brittany Gardner’s achievements just keep growing

Brittany Gardner Loyola. | Supplied photo

Brittany Gardner, of Loyola. | Supplied photo

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Updated: June 21, 2013 6:15AM



When it comes to playing “Can you top this” with an athletic career, few Southland females can run with Brittany Gardner.

The Orland Park native went from being a brilliant high school pitcher who led Sandburg to a Class 4A state title in 2010, to a “Newcomer of the Year” as a freshman at Loyola University, to a single-season record setter and “Pitcher of the Year” as a sophomore, to a career record-setter as a junior.

She already has her sights set on a new goal for next season.

“Loyola has never gone to (NCAA) regionals,” Gardner said. “It’s going to be difficult because we’re going to the MVC (Missouri Valley Conference) and that’ll be our first year. But hopefully we’ll win the MVC tournament and go on to regionals for the first time ever.”

I wouldn’t bet against her.

My lasting image of Gardner in a softball uniform is of her and catcher Lexi Bryant in a bearhug under the lights at EastSide Centre in East Peoria after Gardner retired the final Fremd batter to clinch a 2-1 victory in the 2010 Class 4A state title game.

Gardner struck out seven that night, made a spectacular catch on a bullet line drive, and otherwise was simply the tough-to-hit lefty pitcher that we had come to expect during her career.

She was 20-2 that season for the Eagles, with a sparkling 0.66 ERA, recording 222 strikeouts in just 148 innings. She earned her third straight all-conference selection and her second All-Area honor.

Moving the rubber back to 43 feet allowed hitters to catch up to a lot of pitchers. But not Gardner. Not until college, anyway.

“It was an adjustment, for sure,” she said, chuckling. “In high school I was pretty dominant. I really didn’t ever get hit that much.

“Going to college and pitching against these girls ... at first it was hard to adjust to being hit and giving up home runs and doubles, and losing, and getting my butt kicked sometimes.”

Gardner still had a solid first season for Loyola, tying the school record for wins by a freshman (14), during one stretch tossing 31 consecutive shutout innings and finishing with 187 strikeouts. She was named the “Newcomer of the Year” in the Horizon conference.

“I was really lucky. My head coach (Missy Beseres) is also a pitching coach and she was really, really good,” Gardner said. “Working with her every day definitely helped me out a lot.

“And just being in college I was able to do so much more. I mean, we lift and we run and we practice every single day of the week. We had done a little of that at (Sandburg), but it was nothing compared to college.”

Her work ethic didn’t go unnoticed.

“She’s always striving to be better and works so hard, especially in the offseason,” Beseres said. “Having a pitcher like that in the circle ... you can’t ask for more than that from a player.

“And she actually is a really good student of the game. She’s always watching the other pitchers, and we always have conversations about what works, what doesn’t work. She’s pretty remarkable.”

Gardner was chosen as the Horizon conference Pitcher of the Year in 2011 after a sophomore campaign in which she was 18-10, with 17 complete games, 10 shutouts, two no-hitters and 205 strikeouts in 169 innings.

More records fell in 2012. Despite battling tendinitis in one of her knees, Gardner struck out 174 and along the way passed the previous career record of 535.

“It was really cool, really exciting,” Gardner said. “I’m glad it’s over with, though. Right around when I was getting close, with like 10 left, I felt some pressure like, ‘Oh, my God, I have to get it this game.’ I’m just glad it’s done with and I don’t have to worry about it anymore.”

Gardner won 16 games in 2012, leaving her three shy of the school’s career record of 51.

Off the field, Gardner was named to Loyola’s 2013-14 Maroon & Gold Society, one of 25 seniors-to-be who are recognized for their commitment to leadership, academic excellence and service to others.

Also, as part of her social work major, Gardner will do an internship during her senior year, working with a group of Chicago kids who are leaving juvenile hall and re-entering the community.

Yeah, Missy Beseres. You are so right.

Pretty remarkable.



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