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Carlie Brandt Is A Jack Of All Trades For Minnesota

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(Photo by Ben Solomon)

Minnesota was on the verge of its third straight Big Ten Tournament title, but Northwestern wasn’t going down without a fight.

The Golden Gophers held a 9-5 lead in the bottom of the seventh in the championship game of the 2018 Big Ten Tournament, and when the Wildcats opened the inning with a leadoff double, Minnesota decided to make a pitching change. So, naturally, in came the shortstop.

But Carlie Brandt was no ordinary shortstop. Then a sophomore, Brandt had pitched 50 innings for the Gophers that year and had also played second base and outfield. And on that dreary Sunday in Madison, Wis., she allowed the inherited runner on second to score, but still closed the door on Northwestern as Minnesota won 9-6 to claim the title.

“I have the mindset of staying ready,” Brandt said. “I’m just open-minded to whatever is needed with me. I jumped in the circle, and we got it done as a team, so that was a fun experience.”

Brandt, now a fifth-year senior, has played every role the Gophers have asked her to fill during her career. Minnesota has gone through two head coaching changes since her arrival in Minneapolis, from Jessica Allister to Jamie Trachsel to Piper Ritter, but all three coaches have recognized the value of Brandt’s versatility. Brandt has played every position except catcher during her time as a Gopher.

Minnesota was always Brandt’s dream school—she grew up an hour from Minneapolis and said she enjoyed attending games at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. Ritter, now in her first season as the Gophers’ head coach after 13 years as the program's pitching coach, said she watched Brandt win a state championship in high school as a pitcher. Brandt mainly played other positions for her club team.

“In high school, we knew she was very athletic,” Ritter said. “We liked her versatility in the outfield, and through coaching changes and different needs of our team, she went from the infield to the outfield to the infield to the outfield, the whole time pitching a little bit. She was very good when she did a whole bunch of different things.”

Brandt’s numbers, especially offensively, won’t blow anyone away—she’s a career .174 hitter with one home run. Her pitching statistics are better, with a cumulative ERA of 1.49, but she’s logged just nine innings in the circle over the last two-plus seasons. And yet, since her sophomore season, she’s been in the starting lineup more than 80 percent of the time.

Her primary position has changed just about every year. She was principally an outfielder in her freshman and junior seasons and was Minnesota’s starting left fielder during the Gophers’ run to the Women’s College World Series in 2019. In 2018 and 2020, she has mainly played infield and is now the starting shortstop. Brandt even hit second in the lineup for the last two games against Indiana.

“The game is the same no matter where you are,” Brandt said. “Don’t let the ball hit the ground, make the play, defend your pitcher. Having experience with the little bits of time in many positions, that’s made me a stronger player. If I’m in the outfield and I’m able to take something back with me to the infield, that’s a great thing.”

Brandt chose to return for a fifth year in Minneapolis as the Gophers attempt to return to the top of the Big Ten standings and chase another trip to Oklahoma City. Minnesota boasts one of the best pitchers in the country in Amber Fiser and a deep lineup led by veterans MaKenna Partain and Natalie DenHartog. But Brandt, with her ability to play all over the field, will be a key piece as well.

Although Ritter is not too keen on putting Brandt behind the plate for a game so that she can say she’s played every position, the coach is confident Brandt would be able to do it.

“She kids around because she wants to do it,” Ritter said. “Catching is a unique position. We recruit catchers, and it’s not worth putting her behind the plate with people throwing really hard and foul balls happening. It’s not really something I could ever see. But I do think she’d be up for the challenge.”

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