Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 15, 2013

Boyd’s Crooks already set on Rio Grande

Rocky Stanley
The Independent

CANNONSBURG — Boyd County junior outfielder Brianna Crooks made up her mind early about the University of Rio Grande.

With two high school softball seasons still ahead of her, Crooks signed a National Letter or Intent on Thursday afternoon in the new BCHS cafeteria.

“I visited there about 2 1/2 weeks ago and got to practice with their team,” Crooks said of the NAIA school in southeastern Ohio. “The girls all seemed to welcome me. It just feels like home. I didn’t want to be anywhere else.”

She also considered Georgetown, but likes the close proximity of Rio Grande and has “a bunch of friends that go there.”

Crooks, wearing a Rio fleece for the occasion, said two of her KC Diamond Gems teammates — junior Samantha Nixon and senior Autumn Griffith from Ohio high schools— will be joining the RedStorm program. Another KC Diamond player, Mattie Lawson, is now a freshman at Rio Grande.

Career plans also weighed heavily in Crooks’ decision.

“Rio has an awesome early education program, that’s another big reason I was steered that way,” she said.

Second-year RedStorm head coach Kristen Bradshaw is looking forward to Crooks’ arrival in the fall of 2014.

“This is the first junior we’ve signed,” Bradshaw said. “I’m really excited to get her committed early.”

Crooks batted .389 during her sophomore season for a Boyd County team that won 29 games, including the 64th District championship, and finished runner-up in the 16th Region Tournament for the third year in a row. She hit nine doubles, drove in 28 runs and scored 21.

“Leading up to my sophomore year, I worked extremely hard in the offseason with Tony Ellis at KC Diamond and my dad (Steve Crooks),” Brianna said. “They really helped me. I think I only struck out twice last season.”

Bradshaw sees a player beginning to come into her own.

“I like her speed. I like her arm from the outfield,” said the Rio Grande coach. “Bri really seemed to fit into our team, and what I keep saying is that she’s still young. She hasn’t even been an upperclassmen.”

Crooks, preparing for her third year as a starter in the BCHS lineup, receives high marks from coach Geoff Stewart.

“Bri is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever been around,” Stewart said. “She wants to succeed. She’s a team player and a pleasure to be around, on and off the softball field.”

Stewart said Crooks’ early signing will “relieve a lot of stress and allow her to concentrate on her goals for the next two seasons.”

Crooks hopes to help lead the Lady Lions to district and regional championships this year and next.

Last season, Crooks hit a one-out single in the district finals to set the state for Taylor Wheeler’s game-winning two-run homer. For the season, Crooks led her team in two-out hits.

”We’re tickled to death if there are two outs and Bri Crooks is coming up,” Stewart said. “She’s a very clutch hitter. We expect huge things from her this year.”

Crooks is likely to take over for graduated Kaitlin Brown in center field.

“Bri is an extremely talented outfielder with a strong arm and great mechanics when it comes down to tracking fly balls,” Stewart said. “When you mention Boyd County softball, people think of Emily Stewart and Taylor Wheeler. I feel like Bri is one of our top players. She’s fast approaching that level.”

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.