O'Donnell shines in stressful spots
No outs, bases loaded and a scoreless tie in the bottom of the sixth inning. That's the nightmare situation travel softball team Jersey Intensity faced in a regular season matchup five years ago.
Needing a miracle, Intensity coach Kevin O'Donnell called upon his daughter, Brittany, to put out the fire. Only a seventh-grader at the time and facing a team of high schoolers, Brittany took the ball and calmly struck out the side to preserve the tie. The Intensity went on to win the game in the seventh.
Afterward, Kevin took his daughter to dinner and asked what went through her mind when she pitched. Brittany grabbed a piece of paper and wrote the first thing to pop into her head.
Coming in to pitch, bases loaded, no outs, 0-0 game, striking out the side& I live for this.Not much has changed since then. The paper is now on the bulletin board in Kevin's office, and Brittany still approaches pressure-packed situations with the same gusto. Only these days, instead of being a precocious seventh-grader with an older travel team, she's a senior at ESPN RISE FAB 50 No. 9 ranked Red Bank Catholic (Red Bank, N.J.) who's arguably the state's top softball player.
"I'm intense, but it comes through as being poised," says Brittany, who's signed with Notre Dame. "I keep my composure."
A 5-foot-8 right-handed pitcher, Brittany was both an Under Armour and an EA Sports All-American last year. The fourth-year starter entered her senior season 57-11 with 915 strikeouts in 576 innings. She also had 19 no-hitters, including three perfect games.
Brittany set a foundation for success at age 9 when she learned how to pitch with help from her father, a former baseball player at Canisius College. The pair worked together to develop a five-pitch repertoire that's downright frightening to face.
"She's nasty," Kevin says. "I wouldn't want to face her as a hitter. She's very focused and driven."
Brittany's bread-and-butter pitch is the drop curve, which breaks down and in on lefties and down and away from righties. Her screwball barrels in on the bats of righties and away from lefties, while her fastball can hit 66 mph with movement. Mix in a change and riseball, and Brittany defines intimidation.
No wonder she's known as Bulldog.
"As soon as she steps on that mound, you know she's in control," says Red Bank Catholic fifth-year coach Tracey Lombardi. "She doesn't let the batter rattle her. She rattles the batter."
Nobody cut a more menacing figure in the circle than Brittany last year. She turned in one of best seasons in state history while leading Red Bank Catholic to the Non-Public A state title. Brittany finished the year 25-2 with a 0.12 ERA and 353 strikeouts, allowing just three earned runs and 28 hits in 179 innings. She also tossed 23 shutouts and 11 no-hitters, two of which she threw on the same day. Nope, not a misprint.
Last April 26, Brittany no-hit Raritan in a regular season game in the morning. Red Bank Catholic then traveled to face Colts Neck in the Monmouth County Tournament quarterfinals. There, Brittany fanned 18 in her second consecutive no-hitter, a 2-1 win in which Colts Neck scored on a walk, sacrifice bunt and error. Brittany also clubbed the game-winning RBI single in the bottom of the eighth.
"That was unbelievable," Lombardi says. "It gets to the point where even that doesn't surprise us anymore. It's just Brittany being Brittany."
As the team's cleanup hitter, Brittany batted .469 with 38 hits, 17 RBIs and an on-base percentage of .538. The Gatorade State Player of the Year capped the season by tossing a complete-game two-hitter with seven strikeouts to lead Red Bank Catholic to a 1-0 win over Immaculate Heart in the Non-Public A state final.
But as ridiculous as she played last year, Brittany's most cherished part of the season was the opportunity to celebrate a state crown with her younger sister, Kaitlyn. After the final out, the O'Donnell sisters found each other among a sea of celebrating players and embraced in a big hug. Because Kaitlyn is two years younger than Brittany, they had played together on a team only one other time before last season. The experience meant so much they started to cry.
"We look at each other after every out," Brittany says. "It's nice to know I have my sister there for support." Brittany may look to her sister for support on the field, but off it she's the one providing support. Ever since her freshman year, Brittany has conducted volunteer pitching clinics for needy kids in the area. She's also a member of her school's LIFE Club, through which she's participated in food and clothing drives, handed out candy canes to benefit a cancer foundation and helped underprivileged new mothers in conjunction with the Birthright Baby Shower organization.
"I like helping people," Brittany says. "It makes you feel good to help someone who isn't as blessed as you are. You're making their day."
As if all that's not enough, Brittany also has a 4.0 GPA and is a member of the National Honor Society.
"Everyone wants to be just like Brittany," says Kaitlyn, now a sophomore first baseman.
Yet somehow Brittany isn't content. To improve for her senior season and her Notre Dame career, she practiced pitching four days a week and hit every day during the offseason. She also did speed, agility and conditioning drills twice a week.
While that all makes for one hectic schedule, it doesn't fluster Brittany. She never gets tired.
Remember, she lives for this.
Jon Mahoney covers high school sports for ESPN RISE Magazine.
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