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Ella Bruning is an outstanding baseball player for Texas

The strike three pitch bounced in the dirt and started rolling away. The Abilene, Texas catcher shot out of her position like a jack in the box and sprinted toward the ball. From the right batter’s box, the catcher fielded the ball and, in one fluid motion, unleashed a laser-like throw which beat the runner by a step.

It was the kind of play anyone learning the catcher position should watch. It was text-book defense.

Oh yeah, the player making that play was a girl.

Ella Bruning has been making plays like that since becoming a catcher nearly two years ago. Bruning is the 21st girl to play at the Little League World Series and will make her debut tonight against Washington.

But Bruning’s gender is just a minor part of this story. She is not a girl playing baseball. Bruning is a great baseball player, period.

“I’m just just proud of the ball player she is and impact she’s had on the success the team has had,” Ella’s father and Texas coach Bryan Bruning said. “She plays the game because she loves it. Hopefully what people see is her passion and energy for the game.”

“I’m really excited for that because we’ve already played on TV before and I’m excited to do things a lot of people don’t get to do,” Ella said. “This is once in a lifetime experience and I’ve got to make the best of it.”

Bruning has made the best of all her baseball experiences and is a major reason Abilene won both its first state championship and earned its inaugural Series berth. Although she did not move to catcher until last summer, Bruning took to it like a fish in water. And while there have been 20 other females who played at the Series, few have starred as a catcher. Make no mistake either, Bruning has been a star at catcher.

That play she made against Colorado in a Series-clinching victory was one of many highlights Bruning has generated this summer. The 12-year-old has become a true weapon behind the plate. She is tough, tenacious and fundamentally sound. Bruning blocks nearly every pitch thrown in the dirt and possesses a hose of an arm which limits opponents’ running games.

Underestimate Bruning at one’s own peril.

“She has a cannon. Some people come in thinking they can run her, but it’s not happening,” Texas manager Reggie Regala said. “You see her flip off that helmet if a third strike is in the dirt and she is getting that runner. It’s huge having her back there.”

Bruning combines her skills with an astute baseball mind. She can break down her position and the game like a long-time Major League manager. And she is a calming influence on the team’s pitchers. Like a quarterback, watch Bruning constantly communicating, alerting her teammates and making sure everyone is prepared.

Ironically, Bruning plays a position that often is viewed the same way as an offensive lineman. Some might overlook the countless defensive contributions but, like so many other catchers, Bruning is a terrific leader.

“It’s cool because I’m involved in every pitch and every play of the game,” Ella said. “You can’t play without a catcher and we have a bunch of good pitchers on our team. Every pitcher on our team can pitch, so I know what to expect when I catch them and it’s cool that I can work with all of them at different times.”

Bruning is as tough as she is talented. During a section tournament game, Bruning was covering home on a close play when an opponent ran her over. Not only did Bruning hold onto the ball, she also did not miss a play. She has not missed one the entire summer.

It takes more than physical play to break this hard-nosed, elite player.

“She’s as tough a box of nails,” Wylie Little League president Bobby Gilbreth said. “A lot of opposing teams think it’s a girl and then realize she knows what she knows and, beware.”

Bruning’s skills and mentality have won her many fans. They extend beyond Abilene and continue growing by the day. Softball legend Jennie Finch has reached out to Bruning and complemented her, as well as Beth Greenwood, the first female to catch at the Division I level. Those players were inspirations for so many others and now Bruning is serving as an inspiration to so many young players.

“I like the support and I use it in how I play. It’s awesome for me,” Ella said. “But it doesn’t really affect what goes down on the baseball field. They can’t control what happens. It’s great getting that support but I have to go out and do the work.”

Work is what she does constantly. Bruning loves the game and her teammates. Her brother Dillon also has played a vital role in the team’s success and, oh, the stories they are co-authoring this summer. Another chapter was written in the Southwest final when Bruning made her first start on the mound during all-stars and threw two shutout innings against undefeated Louisiana.

A brilliant catcher, Bruning made a smooth transition and knew exactly what her strengths were. She did not try to overpower Louisiana because she does not throw that hard. But she mixed her pitches, effectively hit her spots, moved the ball well and struck out two.

As good a player as Bruning is, she is not sure if she will keep playing in the future. Who can blame her? She’s just enjoying the moment right now.

What a moment she has helped create.

“I’m really excited that we get to play and to go so far to play the game because it’s so fun,” Ella said. “I’m just going to play as long as I can because I love playing.”

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