COVID-19 gave fifth-year pitcher and first baseman Brittany Pickett one more year to be a Tar Heel. Now, in just a few weeks, her time with the team will come to an end.
Pickett has been the face of the North Carolina softball program in each of her five years. She has dominated both offensively and defensively, and is in the top 10 for almost every career pitching record in UNC history. Pickett has too many awards and honors to name and serves as a mentor to her teammates.
Pickett has been playing softball since she was eight years old. She tried many different sports at the recreational level, including cheerleading and gymnastics. However, she quickly came to realize they were not for her. It was then that her mother signed her up for softball.
“Immediately we knew, as soon as we saw her in rec ball, that she would be something special,” former coach Dave Collins said.
Collins said Pickett always played above her age bracket because of her height, so she was consistently the youngest team member. He referred to Pickett as the quiet girl who got her work done and described her as goal-oriented.
Pickett fell in love with the game, joining a travel team just two years after her softball career began. She has been fully invested ever since.
“I had my heart set on softball,” Pickett said.
After an impressive high school career, Pickett headed to North Carolina already well-decorated. She was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2014 NCHSAA 3A State Playoffs after leading Sun Valley High School to a state title. Pickett was the team MVP for three out of her four years of high school. She made the NCSCA All-State twice and All-District three times.
Her long list of accomplishments came with a lot of attention.
“She always had some hype around her,” Collins said. “She took that pressure well.”
Collins has known Pickett for the entirety of her softball career and coached her throughout middle and high school. He got to see her firsthand.
The talented young player made the All-Southern Carolina Conference every year in high school, as well as being a part of the 2016 MaxPreps All-American Second Team and being a two-time North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year Nominee.
In her sophomore year alone, Pickett was named the 2014 SCC Pitcher of the Year, the 2014 Charlotte Observer Player of the Year and the 2014 Sun Valley Offensive Player of the Year.
“My freshman or sophomore year of high school, I kind of saw the potential I had,” Pickett said.
This potential led to her being recognized by the coaching staff at North Carolina and signing to the school the summer before her junior year. UNC was the first Division 1 school to give her an offer, which was all Pickett needed. She immediately committed.
“I was all over it,” Pickett said. “I feel like I fit right in.”
Head coach Donna Papa initially heard about Pickett when a high school softball coach in the Charlotte area reached out to tell her about the rising star. The coach knew Papa loved lefties, particularly lefties who could hit. Pickett fit this criterion, so UNC’s head coach went to watch her play in a few games, including the state championship game that Pickett helped the Spartans win during her sophomore year.
“I was like ‘I gotta have her,’” Papa said.
So, it’s fair to say Pickett had already made a name for herself by the time she became a Tar Heel in 2017. But she didn’t stop there. She wasn’t yet satisfied.
Coming to UNC
She had one of the best rookie campaigns in program history, pitching nine shutouts in her 50 pitching appearances. Pickett was named to the NFCA All-Southeast Region second team and the All-ACC first team honors, was ACC Freshman of the Year and was a finalist for NFCA National Freshman of the Year.
However, Pickett does not take all of the credit for her progress on the mound. She developed a strong bond with her pitching coach Chelsey Dobbins, and they worked together to help take Pickett’s game to the next level.
Pickett was a part of the All-ACC first team and the ACC All-Tournament team her sophomore and junior years. She appeared in five games during her shortened senior campaign, with a game-winning run and eight strikeouts before sustaining a season-ending injury to the thumb of her pitching hand.
“It’s a tough loss,” redshirt senior outfielder Kristina Burkhardt said. “She was still there physically for us. She was still supportive.”
But after COVID-19 cut the season short, Pickett and all other spring sport athletes were granted an extra year of eligibility. For Pickett, the decision was easy: she was coming back for another run.
“I saw it as a great opportunity,” Pickett said. “I thought ‘Maybe this is not my time yet.’”
Pickett is grateful for this extra year of eligibility and has not been wasting it. She was selected to the preseason All-ACC team, and also became a part of the Crimson Classic all-tournament team this year after pitching 27 strikeouts in 23.2 innings. Thanks to this season, she now holds UNC's career record for saves with 12.
The season is now drawing to a close, with four regular-season games against Louisville remaining before the ACC Tournament. After playing over 100 games with UNC, this number is a reminder of how little time she has left in her softball career.
“I’m excited to finish up playing with all of my best friends,” Pickett said. “I know I’m able to leave a mark on Carolina’s program and pave the way for future players.”
After Pickett’s long career dedicated to the program, it's hard for her coaches and teammates to see her go.
“Brittany has been, from a pitching standpoint, the face of our program,” Papa said. “She represents Carolina well. She represents our team well.”
After her final season in Chapel Hill, Pickett plans to move back to her hometown of Indian Trail, N.C. and attend nursing school. She received her bachelor’s degree in exercise and sports science with a minor in coaching from the University last spring.
She leaves the school with a UNC education and a legacy the Tar Heel softball program will likely remember for years to come.
“I would choose Carolina over and over again,” Pickett said.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.