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Brooks, Allen are multifaceted talents for Dickinson State softball

Abi Brooks, a senior pitcher for the Dickinson State softball team, winds up during a 2018 home game at the North Softball Complex. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)1 / 2
Sophomore pitcher Jaya Allen runs fielding drills at practice on Wednesday, March 27, at the Biesiot Activities Center. (Shelby Reardon / The Dickinson Press)2 / 2

Ahead of the 2019 Dickinson State softball season, it was clear senior Abi Brooks and sophomore Jaya Allen would be the primary pitchers. What came as a bit of a surprise, is that they are also performing quite well at the plate.

For a team as small as Dickinson State, which lists 13 on the roster, Brooks and Allen being multifaceted players has been a game changer.

"It's been huge because we eliminate a (designated hitter) spot, plus if we do need to make that change, it doesn't cost us a substitution. We've just been using it to our advantage," head coach Kristen Fleury said. "Abi's been hitting the ball hard for us, same with Jaya. She's hit some hard shots directly to people, but she can also hit the long ball for us. We really look to their bats as our main RBI hitters."

First and foremost, though, they are pitchers.

Brooks spent 179⅓ innings on the mound last spring, and has seen 60 innings so far this year, posting a 3.97 ERA. Meanwhile, Allen has thrown 86⅓ innings, accumulating a 3.41 ERA.

Both are right-handed, but deliver different stuff to the plate. Brooks puts more movement on her pitches, drawing more contact than Allen, who has established herself as a strikeout pitcher. The Washington native has 98 K's, good for the second most in the North Star conference and tied for eighth in the NAIA.

"I think we both bring something different to the table and that's exactly why we work well together," Allen said. "When I have my off days, Abi can come in and have my back 100 percent, and I always have her back, too."

Fleury said it's essentially a coin flip when it comes to who starts, but with conference play consisting of many doubleheaders, each sees plenty of time on the rubber.

"We keep people off balance with our different styles," Brooks said.

Neither were expected to perform particularly well at the plate right away. Allen, who transferred from Yavapai College in Arizona, batted just 11 times last season.

After going a full year without a slot in the lineup, Allen went 4-for-7 in her first two games as a Blue Hawk, earning her the cleanup spot. She has 19 RBIs, the second most on the team, including four home runs and five doubles. She boasts a .277 batting average, and her .538 slugging percentage is the third-highest on the squad.

Brooks was never totally absent from the lineup, but had just 85 at-bats over the last two seasons in the blue and gray. Over 20 games this year, Brooks had 56 at-bats, with 20 hits, six doubles, a triple and a pair of dingers. In the No. 5 spot in the order, Brooks has earned a .357 batting average, the third highest on the team. She's also batted in 11 RBIs, compared to two in her previous three years with the program.

"Maybe I just feel like I have nothing to lose," Brooks said of her sudden improvement. "It's my last season of playing softball ever and I'm just putting it all out there."

One would think being a pitcher at the plate puts them at a disadvantage since hitting isn't their strong suit, but in fact, there are a few advantages.

"It helps you get to know the umpire and see what their zone is, see what that pitcher's throwing," Brooks said.

"You have a pitcher's mentality, so you want to get ahead on a batter," Allen added. "So, you automatically know if a pitcher's gonna have a first-pitch strike, you can turn on it early."

Brooks, a nursing major, hails from Rocklin, Calif., and was recruited out of high school by Fleury. Allen visited Dickinson State last summer, not long after the softball team's season ended with a trip to the opening round of the NAIA tournament, and she said coach Fleury "made her love softball again."

While the two are quite opposite forces on the mound, elsewhere, they are on the same wavelength.

"We seem to know each other really well," Brooks said. "When we have bad days, we know how to pick each other up. In the dugout, when we come in for each other, we tell each other what the umpire is calling."

"And encourage each other in practice," Allen interjected. "If somebody's having a rough practice, Abi always knows how to cheer me up and say, 'You got it, you're good.'"

Allen, who is studying psychology, is one of six underclassmen on a senior-heavy team. Ahead of the season, the preseason poll put the Blue Hawks in third with two first-place votes, as Valley City State was named the conference favorite. So far, that holds true, with the Vikings' 24-1 record pushing their name to the top of the NSAA standings. The Blue Hawks are 13-10 overall and will face Valley City on the road this weekend.

"We've been a little up and down, obviously with the 13-10 record," Fleury said. "I think we're a better team than that. We've lost some close games, but we also lost a game by eight runs. We're trying to find some consistency with our offense, our defense, and our pitching."