Stevens: Bulldog DeBroeck Got Her Softball Start From The Easter Bunny

April 18, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Softball - Mountain West - At Lobo Field

Who/When: Lobos vs. Nevada - 6 p.m., Friday; 6 p.m., Saturday; 1 p.m., Sunday GameTracker, Game Recap, LoboTV, Complete Stats

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

In looking back for a stimulate, maybe a special person that pushed her toward softball and the pitching plate, New Mexico's Kaela DeBroeck has a unique answer:

"The best Easter Bunny in the world," said UNM's senior hurler.

The Easter Bunny in question visited DeBroeck in Walla Walla, Wash., and along with the normal offerings from Mr. Bunny, the athletic 5-year-old also found herself the proud owner of a bat, ball, glove and a bag.

And she had some time to kill.

DeBroeck's parents were building a house and doing a lot of the work themselves so the kids had to find ways to entertain themselves. And, hey, a bat, ball and glove go a lot further than a chocolate egg or two.

"As kids, we were looking for something to do while they were working," said DeBroeck. "We had all these big sheets of plywood lying around and my mom drew a catcher on one of them.

"I threw the ball at the plywood all day long. I would throw it and field it and throw it and field it. I just kept with it. I still have that red ball at home."

Now, it's possible that the mom (Cheryl) who drew the catcher on the plywood also was the bunny that brought the bat, ball and glove, but we don't want to shatter any of DeBroeck's childhood memories. But mom came through again a few years later.

DeBroeck was pitching and not having a good day. She had another target at this time, one she calls "the blue guy."

"The last game I pitch, I'll learn something. I think I'm going to have a really hard time being away from this game."
Lobo senior Kaela DeBroeck

"I was out there pitching at the blue guy and I could not hit him, could not hit the blue guy," said DeBroeck. "I remember bawling and asking to get a pitching lesson. He (pitching coach) pushed me in because I was crying and fixed my problem.

"When we got home, mom said, `If you hit 15 (strikes) out of 20 (pitches), you get a new pair of shoes.' I did not stop that day until I got that new pair of shoes. I think that day sparked my competitiveness.

"I think everyone goes into a pitching phase and I hit that stage and stayed in it. There was something about pitching. I loved it."

DeBroeck has been pitching a softball most of her life. She also played soccer, basketball and volleyball through middle school, but abandoned the other games to concentrate on softball in high school. She headed off to Houston after prep ball, but was not happy being a Cougar and transferred to New Mexico in 2010.

She started 22 games in 2010, 23 the next season as a junior and had 22 starts in 2012. As a senior, she is enjoying her best season. She carries a 4.95 career ERA into this weekend's series with Nevada, but has a 2.72 ERA in 85 innings pitched so far this season. She had a 5.66 ERA in 2012.

"It can be a bitter-sweet spot," said DeBroeck of the pitching plate. "But the pressure is what makes the spot what it is. If it didn't come with all that (pressure and responsibility) then everyone would be willing to be a pitcher.

"It takes a select few of us crazies, who want to take on the role of being at the highest high and then being at the lowest low."

There is no question that the pitcher is the key position on a softball field with the potential to dominate a game because of the mere 43 feet between the pitcher and the batter - and the variety of movements and speeds on the ball.

It is the position of focus in a game for the obvious reason. DeBroeck remembers one time when she was eight and received some unwanted attention.

"I had a parent jump the fence and come at me on the mound," she said. "I hit their child when I was pitching. I was maybe double the size of their kid, but it wasn't a hard ball. It was a squishy ball."

In a way, that was a valuable lesson for DeBroeck. When you step on the plate, you accept the heat that comes with it.

"Maybe the biggest challenge as a pitcher is to learn how to come back from the bad times or the negatives or the bad comments that people might have about how you pitched," said DeBroeck.

"You have highs when you pitch but there are lows, too. You have to have a strong attitude, a strong mentality toward the challenges you face. I like the close games. It's fun to walk all over a team, but its more rewarding when the game is close and you have a lot of important moments to prove yourself. Those are exciting times."

Lobo Coach Erica Beach is a former Arizona State All-American. She has personal knowledge of what comes when you step on the pitching plate.

"Pitching is a high-pressure position and you have to have a certain mental makeup to be a successful pitcher," said Beach. "The competitiveness of each pitch is something that drives a pitcher. You can't take a pitch off. It can be mentally exhausting.

"If you aren't a pitcher, it's difficult to understand what it's like to have every pitch matter. It takes a special person to handle that position."

As a senior, DeBroeck is handling that position better than ever as a Lobo. "She has stepped it up a level," said Beach. "She has been a bulldog for us."

DeBroeck carries a 6-7 mark into the Nevada series along with her 2.72 ERA. She went 13-6 in 2012 and that mark came with a 5.66 ERA. But the Lobos of 2012 were ball mashers. The Lobos of 2013 are last in the Mountain West in batting average and slugging percentage.

DeBroeck needs a little more help from her friends as she closes out her career as a Lobo.

"There are only 11 games left," said DeBroeck. "It (college career) was crazy slow to begin with but now you wish for the slow days to come back. This is definitely my best year, but there is always something to learn out there.

"The last game I pitch, I'll learn something. I think I'm going to have a really hard time being away from this game."

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at