Brooke Baker Runyon, head coach of the Andrean Fighting 59ers, encourages her players from third base. The Andrean High School Fighting 59ers defeated the Edgewood Mustangs in the 2012 IHSAA Softball State Finals to take home the State Championship Title in Class 3A at Ben Davis High School in Indianapolis Saturday, June 9, 2012. | Doug McSchooler~for the Post-Tribune
Updated: July 11, 2012 10:35AM
INDIANAPOLIS — Let’s get this disclaimer out there right away: This is NOT a softball coach-of-the-year story.
It may read like one by the last paragraph, but those awards come out later.
Right now, on the day after Andrean won its third softball state title with a resounding 9-2 victory over Edgewood at Ben Davis High School, this is a column about a winner.
Some people are born winners. Some develop a winning attitude through hard work.
Who knows if Brooke Baker-Runyon was a winner when she escaped the womb or evolved into one over years of playing softball under respected coaches. Bottom line: She’s the ultimate winner.
She was a winner in high school as a player at Lake Central, winning a state title in 2002, reaching the state finals two other times.
She was a winner at Purdue, finishing in the top five in several career stat categories.
Now she’s a winner as a coach, leading a group of players that included seniors who had lost twice in the state final under two different coaches.
Don’t think it made that much of a difference to have the former Miss Softball in the dugout? Don’t take my word for it.
“Brooke understands us — what we can or can’t do,” said junior Katie Crandol, who returned to active playing this season while recovering from brain cancer and still going through chemotherapy.
“She’s been here before and knows how to win.”
By the way, Crandol got a single as the designated player in Saturday’s victory. Don’t think that wasn’t icing on the cake for plenty of fans and players.
“That felt really good,” Crandol said of the hit. “Couldn’t finish any better.”
Don’t believe a player who was still euphoric with a smile from ear to ear while wearing her shiny medal? How about an assistant whose daughter has played for the two previous coaches.
“She was a big sister to them,” said Fred Steinbach, father of winning pitcher Nikki Steinbach. “She pulled all the right levers to get them here. It’s a bond that we (old men assistant coaches and dads) can’t really understand.”
Don’t believe him? Well then, how about Baker-Runyon’s boss who decided to go against the norm at Andrean — and many other schools, for that matter — and not hire an “old man” and go with a young female who is a proven winner.
“I thought the girls needed somebody to mentally prepare them and give them confidence,” Andrean athletic director Tim Crnkovich said.
“It’s a reciprocation of respect from coach to player and vice versa. She deals with the kids on a level they can relate to, and the girls see her as a role model. She’s been everything they should strive for — a state champ, Miss Softball, a player in college and a college graduate.”
All of that can be condensed into “She’s a winner,” plain and simple.
Not that the previous two coaches weren’t winners. But as one Andrean parent who wanted to remain anonymous said, “She’s nothing but good for the program. There’s no more daddy-daughter issues or anything else. The girls really responded to her.”
Baker-Runyon is also a part of IHSAA history as the first to win a softball state title as a player and a coach. She admits she didn’t know about that possibility until a couple days earlier, but she admitted she’s definitely proud of the achievement.
“The kids are so much more relaxed and were having more fun (throughout the season),” Baker-Runyon said. “I was doing what was best for them and (winning the title) was the ultimate goal.
“Before the (championship) game I told them not to feel nervousness, but anxiousness and to feed off that.”
Baker-Runyon added that at least a couple of the players told her that she was a “breath of fresh air” for the team.
Maybe that’s all the seniors needed to get over the hump and lead the 59ers to the victory that eluded them the last two trips to Ben Davis.
But Crnkovich was right in his vision that Baker-Runyon was the person to do that. After all, she will always be a winner.