Kelsey Brown's Experience Paved The Way For Virginia Tech
When UCLA headed into Easton Stadium to play a win-or-go-home game against Virginia Tech in super regionals this year, all eyes were on the 2019 national champions. How would the Bruins respond and pull out two straight wins against the Hokies?
The answer: experience.
While some new faces were in their first go-around in super regionals, UCLA had been in the spotlight many times before, and with veterans stepping up, took down the Hokies twice to continue on to the Women’s College World Series.
On the other hand, Virginia Tech was in super regionals for the first time since 2008. When it came to experience to try and pull out a win over the No. 2 seed, there was only one player with that experience to turn to: Kelsey Brown.
“I mean, you look at the fence and you're like, ‘oh my God, they have these players on the fence and this and that, we don't belong here,’” Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour said. “But Kelsey puts the ball on the ground, she scores on the double or the triple and it's 2-0. So, you know, she did that.”
Brown grew up in Haymarket, Va. and went to Battlefield High School. The four-time all-conference first-team selection broke state records for the most stolen bases in a season with 45 and hits in a single season with 61. Brown holds the all-time VHSL career stolen bases record with 133.
While never winning the state tournament, Brown learned how postseason play differed from the regular season and how it took players stepping up to get the job done.
“I guess (high school play) kind of gave me the confidence I needed going into college, that my strengths were still speed,” Brown said. “I had confidence that I could get there and then same thing carrying that over to Virginia Tech.”
Committing late, Brown ultimately decided the head to Harrisonburg and play for James Madison her freshman year. Although recruited by current Auburn head coach Mickey Dean, JMU current head coach Loren LaPorte was in charge when Brown stepped foot on campus.
In that 2019 season, Brown and the Dukes made the program’s second-ever super regional appearance after beating Michigan in the regional round. JMU faced No. 2 UCLA that year in Los Angeles and fell to the eventual national champions in two games. Even with the loss, Brown gained valuable experience in the super regional round, and it’s an experience that she’d need throughout her softball career.
“I knew what it was going to be like (this year) rather than my freshman year,” Brown said. “It didn't feel the same, but we were in L.A. and I felt prepared for that.”
Even with the memories from her postseason run with the Dukes, Brown’s field time was limited. She entered the transfer portal after that season was done and had her eyes on Virginia Tech.
“I think I would be at Virginia Tech (even) if I wasn't playing softball,” Brown said. “I think what drew me to it was the coaching, the coaching staff is good and it's a good program. I knew that Virginia Tech softball had a great future and I was hopeful that I could be a part of it.”
Brown joined D’Amour’s team, and after the cancellation of the 2020 season, became a sophomore for 2021. This season for the Hokies was one for the record books, as both the offensive and defensive numbers were up from years past. Brown originally joined the Hokies as a pinch runner, and as her career moved on, saw more action at the plate.
“The first thing with Kelsey is her speed,” D’Amour said. “Kelsey has lots of experience from high school and then when she went to JMU, she gained some more. Now at Virginia Tech, she has transferred her experience.”
Brown stepped up her game in the Tempe Regional even more, as the Hokies cruised to their first super regional appearance in 13 years. The outfielder had four hits and two RBI in two games, as Virginia Tech secured a super regional matchup with No. 2 UCLA.
“I was thinking, it's like, what are the odds? I ended up at UCLA Super Regionals for two postseasons in a row with two different teams,” Brown said. “Not only did I know what super regionals were like, but I knew what super regionals at UCLA were like.”
That experience was on display immediately in game one, as Brown got the scoring started with a single off of redshirt senior pitcher Rachel Garcia. In the seventh, Brown singled again and scored the last run of the game, sealing a 7-2 victory for Virginia Tech.
While UCLA ultimately defeated Virginia Tech in the series, Brown’s leadership helped the Hokies throughout the postseason and her work ethic during the regular season has set her up for a bright future.
“When you transfer somewhere, there's a thought that maybe I'm not as good, or I don't know if I belong on this new team,” D’Amour said. “She leads by example. Nobody's going to outwork her. Nobody does, and the kids feed on that.”