WEST UNITY — For Hilltop softball coach Tom Schaper, Kodi Brenner will be almost irreplaceable.
The senior shortstop, pitcher and slugger is batting .569 (37 for 65), has 51 RBIs, 50 runs, 16 steals, 10 doubles and nine homers as of Sunday to help the Cadets get to 18-3, including 8-0 in the Buckeye Border Conference.
In the circle, Brenner has a 2.10 ERA, 90 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched and holds a 9-2 record and while being perfect from the field so far.
Brenner, who will earn her fourth letter at the end of this year, has a .504 career batting average at Hilltop, along with 119 RBIs, 133 runs, 120 hits, 44 stolen bases, 26 doubles and 16 home runs. She also has a career 2.71 ERA, 193 strikeouts and a 22-6 record in 157 1/3 innings pitched. Brenner earned BBC Softball Player of the Year during her sophomore season, too.
“Kodi’s going to be difficult to replace,” said Schaper, who is in his eighth year leading Hilltop. “It’s just going to be a matter of trying to find somebody who wants to take on a similar role.
“You’re not going to replace her completely and the things that she can do for you, but that goes with all of these special kind of girls that I’ve had over the years you just can’t replace. You try to find somebody who can do a great job for you and maybe help the team in a different way.”
To get where she is at, Brenner put in the work since she could walk and also from watching her mom, Kasey, and dad, Derek, play co-ed softball when she was younger.
Brenner said she started to fall in love with softball once the games became competitive.
“T-ball was not competitive enough for me, so I was ready to be with the big girls,” she said.
Brenner also developed her skills thanks to her dad, who coached her at various levels growing up. She was also motivated to play collegiately.
“I always wanted to play at the next level, so putting in work for that is kind of my drive to play softball,” Brenner said. “I’ve always seen the girls on TV and I always wanted to be one of those girls. That’s what drives me to be better everyday and work towards my goals.
“It’s a team sport. But also, if you’re not stepping up for your team, nothing really clicks for you.”
Brenner has accomplished that goal to play at the next level. She signed to play in the middle infield at Muskingum University, a Division III school in New Concord that’s over a four-hour drive from West Unity, earlier this calendar year.
“I’m super excited,” she said. “I’m getting to meet the girls now that I get to play with. It’s far enough away from home that I’m not in northwest Ohio anymore, so I’m excited to get to branch out and see new things.
“But actually getting to write my name on that paper was pretty cool.”
Brenner’s impact isn’t only in the statbook, either. She is the Cadets’ team captain and has led every step of the way throughout her time at Hilltop.
Schaper said her leadership style ranges from leading by example as a freshman to being a more vocal leader in her final year.
Brenner said she learned how to be a leader from the upperclassmen during her freshman year, and wanted to follow their examples.
“Those girls have been very key parts to my success, and hopefully I’m bringing that success to the other girls this year,” she said.
Her freshman season, though, isn’t her only influence on becoming a leader.
Brenner also played basketball (four-year letterwinner), volleyball (two-year), is her class treasurer, the school’s Future Farmers of America treasurer, part of National Honor Society and has a 4.0 GPA.
“Those different activities have given me so much as a person,” Brenner said. “I used to be a shy, timid little thing when we were younger. But now I’ve kind of stepped out and learned to be a leader, and I really like that role, especially this year.
“I really take it upon myself to bring people together or at least try to bring people together — that’s not always the easiest thing with a bunch of girls. Just taking control and lead the best that I can.”
Schaper said because of Brenner’s success in the classroom, on the field and outside of both, Brenner will have an impact on Hilltop athletics for a long time.
“I’ve known her since she (was in) third grade, and she’s just been a part of Hilltop sports for so long,” said Schaper, who is also a freshman and sophomore English teacher at Hilltop and had Brenner in his classes. “She was the water girl, she was the bat girl, she was helping out all the high school sports teams, so everyone’s known Kodi for all these years. And she absorbed everything that she would see in practices.
“She is not only a smart young lady, but she works so incredibly hard... I know she’s going to succeed in life because of how hard she works and how dedicated she is to success.”
For Brenner, she hopes she is an inspiration to the younger generation in northwest Ohio.
“I just want little girls to know that just because you’re from northwest Ohio, (that) doesn’t mean you can’t go on and do something after high school,” she said.