Lady Chiefs’ Plonka earns Pitcher of the Year honor
Not long ago, the idea of Iroquois going to the state playoffs in softball was more of a joke than a serious possibility. Brooke Plonka and her teammates talked about playing for a state championship, but never in a serious manner.
But in 2018, the team went from sub-.500 to state runner up in Class A. No one played a larger role in that turnaround than Plonka, who was voted the All-Bee Softball Pitcher of the Year by local coaches.
“It means a lot to me honestly with it being my senior year,” Plonka said. “Last year we had a losing record. We always joked since my sophomore year that some day we would go to states. It was kind of a joke to us, but I also take softball very seriously. To be able to come together this year and make a statement meant a whole lot.”
First-year Iroquois coach Aaron Vanderlip knew that he had a good pitcher in Plonka but did not know how special until later in the season. Early on, he used a four-girl rotation to see what he had and make sure no one got too worn out. But by the time playoffs rolled around, she was the lone pitcher, mowing down almost everyone she faced.
She went 13-2 on the season, pitching 89.1 innings. She struck out 180 batters – or more than two per inning – while posting a 1.00 ERA. She was also a star at the plate, posting a .569 batting average and finishing second in hits and first in RBIs, triples, home run and doubles.
Part of the reason Plonka was so dominant was her relationship with catcher Jennifer Stawicki. They’ve played together for many years, since long before high school started.
“She knew Brooke, and she knew what Brooke threw well,” Vanderlip said. “She was able to move the ball in and out and take advantage of wherever the umpire was calling the strikes. She adapted to it and adjusted to it. She hit her spots well; she’s a power pitcher. She can throw the ball by you, too. Any time she’s out there, she has the ability to do it.”
“She knows me so well,” Plonka said. “She can basically read my mind. Our ability to work together is what kind of makes us so powerful.”
Plonka really began to heat up in the playoffs, allowing just five runs in the first seven games. She struck out eight in five innings in a Class A2 quarterfinal win over Cheektowaga and allowed just two hits. She then fanned 12 in five innings in a blowout semifinal victory over Pioneer. She then struck out 12 and allowed just three hits in a Class A2 final shutout win over Lewiston-Porter. It was then that she began to believe the team could make a deep run.
“Going into facing Lew-Port in the Class A2 final game, I didn’t know if we could beat them,” Plonka said. “I wasn’t sure. We all hit the ball, and beat them, and I knew we could beat anyone after that.”
Plonka continued her dominance in the Class A championship, striking out 13 Williamsville East batters and allowing just two runs in a 6-2 win. She repeated that strikeout effort in the Far West Regional win over Rochester Mercy, allowing just one run in the win.
Over the weekend, she led the team to a 1-0, eight-inning win in the state semifinal game. She struck out 17 Mount Sinai batters while pitching a shutout. The team would fall in the state final later that day, But Plonka was still able to fan 10 batters in her final high school game.
“She was a huge factor,” Vanderlip said. “If you’re averaging more than two strikeouts per inning, the ball is not getting put in play much. It takes a lot of pressure off your defense.”
Through all the wins and glory, one game particularly stood out to Plonka: the Class A overall final win over Williamsville East. The team was trailing 2-1 late, but came up with a five-run inning to take the lead. The park was packed with Iroquois supporters.
“I think beating Will East was a big moment for us,” Vanderlip said. “I remember running off the field and right away hugging my coach. He’s done so much for this whole program and so much for me. I grabbed the plaque and held it up to the sideline and our fans went crazy. We just had so much support this year from everyone. All my family was there this year and all my friends. It was an amazing feeling.”
Plonka will continue her softball career at Dartmouth next season.