Coming off a season where she batted .362 and led the ACC in home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage, Brown looks like she could be even better in her final year in Chapel Hill. The two-time All-ACC first-team slugger is possibly one of the best players in the country, and in this weekend's ACC/Big Ten challenge, she showed why.
She batted 6-for-11 with three home runs and eight RBIs, leading the Tar Heels to a 2-2 record in four tough games.
Friday night’s game against Northwestern was the first of the four games, and the team’s first home game of the season. Although North Carolina (4-6) had a slow start batting, Brown was consistently making plays on defense.
Time after time she collected a ground ball and showed off her laser arm throwing to first base. And as she has done so often in her career, she came up big when it mattered most.
Entering the top of the sixth inning, the Tar Heels were down 2-0 and had been stuck in the mud for much of game. Brown decided to do what she does best — make plays. She accounted for all three outs, snagging a line drive and throwing two runners out at first base.
With the defense taken care of, it was time for Brown to take over on offense. Her home run did more than open the scoring for UNC, it completely flipped the momentum. Brown’s sixth inning opened the door for the team in the seventh, as the Tar Heels scored four runs to win in dramatic, walk-off fashion.
Coach Donna Papa doesn't always know when to expect these performances from Brown, but she didn’t seem too surprised.
“She set a standard for herself that’s pretty high," Papa said. "I’ve been here 31 years and you have a couple of special players that come your way, and she’s one of those players. … She is just at the next level."
Her sixth-inning home run was also a historic one, marking the 50th of her career. It gave her sole possession of seventh all-time on the ACC home run list, and furthers her own career school record.
On Saturday, North Carolina had a much more difficult time. UNC dropped a heartbreaking 11-8 game to Northwestern, losing on a walk-off grand slam less than 24 hours after its own walk-off. The Tar Heels also fell against Illinois 4-1 in a game where the team could not seem to get going.
But Brown’s consistency shone through the two tough losses. She hit 2-for-3 in in her first game and 1-for-3 in the second, notching an RBI in both. Brown’s hitting, defense and leadership will be key for her team throughout this season.
“Kristen’s an awesome teammate. She’s always going to people and picking them up when they need it," said junior pitcher Kendra Lynch. "Everyone kind of looks to her as the team leader. She’s who we want in control of the game."
Brown returned as a force in Sunday's game against the Fighting Illini. With a 2-1 lead in the top of the fifth inning, Brown gave the Tar Heels some insurance by blasting her second home run of the weekend, a two-run shot that gave UNC a 4-1 lead.
If there were any doubters of Brown’s abilities after the fifth frame, there likely weren't after the sixth.
Facing a 2-2 count with two outs and runners on first and third base, Brown sent the ball into the trees behind the Anderson Softball Stadium yet again for her fifth home run of this young season.
“The whole weekend we fought …" Brown said. "So each game going into the future, we’re just going to be confident and keep these past wins in our memory.”