One reached the railroad tracks behind Osbourn Park’s softball field.
Another cleared a tree in left center at her home field and ended up on the practice soccer field.
And one smacked the top of the Brentsville scoreboard down the right field line.
Other examples abound, but those three suffice in making this point: Natalie Quinlan has a knack for knocking a softball out of the park with such force and speed that the ball typically rises too high and too fast before traveling too far for opponents to keep up.
It’s what she does. And the result has put her in the team and state record book in four categories.
After recording six RBI in Brentsville’s 18-0 regular-season finale May 19 against Manassas Park, Quinlan, a senior, now has 61 to break the state’s previous single-season career RBI mark of 57.
Also in that game, she recorded her 25th career home run, a program record, and her 13th homer of the season, which ties for second all-time in the state. In addition, Quinlan’s nine RBI May 10 against Warren County ranks fifth all-time in state history for one game.
Quinlan keeps a level head about her exceptional accomplishments. But there’s no doubt she’s doing something special.
“I keep kidding her that this season she has landed from another planet because some of the stats are completely off the charts,” said Brentsville head softball coach Mike Post.
Quinlan’s success stems from several factors.
One is her power. Quinlan has always been preternaturally strong, climbing trees at a young age with ease, recalled her mother, Jennifer. Over time, Quinlan developed more strength in her lower body through the up-and-down movement of playing catcher for travel teams. (She plays third base for Brentsville.) By the seventh grade, the combination began to pay off when she recorded her first home run.
Quinlan also credits her personal hitting coach, Steven Cornett, and Post with enhancing her swing. Cornett has coached Quinlan for at least nine years. Quinlan has known Post most of her life.
“Her mechanics are great,” Post said. “She sees the ball very well. Her contact point is spot on. And she knows how to use her body to generate the tremendous power we are talking about.”
The final piece is Quinlan’s place in Brentsville’s batting order this season. Typically, a team’s power hitter bats third or fourth. Post, however, took an unconventional route by placing Quinlan in the No. 2 position. He made the move after doing some number-crunching in the offseason and discovering that hitting second would give Quinlan between 23% and 25% more at-bats and therefore a chance to record more hits.
The strategy worked. Quinlan is hitting .516 with a .605 on-base percentage against a wide array of opponents.
Quinlan’s totals include going a combined 7 for 11 with four homers and 16 RBI in Class 3 Brentsville’s wins over three Class 6 schools: Cardinal District Tournament champion Woodbridge, Cardinal District regular-season champion Colgan and Cedar Run District Tournament runner-up Patriot.
Quinlan has gone hitless in only three of Brentsville’s 20 games, one of which was against Kettle Run, where she finished with two walks while facing George Mason commitment Kylie Wilkerson, who recorded 11 strikeouts in the 8-7 walk-off victory.
In other words, she’s one tough out for a Brentsville team looking to defend its title in the Class 3, Region B Tournament. The top-seeded Tigers (14-6) begin quarterfinal play Thursday against eighth-seeded Culpeper at 6 p.m.
“Coaches can’t get around it,” Post said. “And they haven’t figured it out. It’s a beautiful thing.”
At first, the move in the batting order confused Quinlan when Post first mentioned the possibility during winter workouts.
She was used to batting third or fourth and seemed the logical choice to replace Post’s daughter, Ellie, as Brentsville’s primary power hitter. Ellie finished her career with 22 homers along with 70 RBI before graduating a year ago and heading to Christopher Newport University. Both she and Quinlan were first-team all-state selections in 2022.
But Quinlan trusted Post, someone she’s known since she started playing softball at age 7. She and Ellie were on the same team with Jennifer as head coach and Post keeping score.
Most of all, she admired his boldness to take such a big risk. Post wished he’d moved Ellie around more in order to avoid opponents intentionally walking her. Now he had a chance at a do-over with his next home-run threat.
“I’ve never had a coach like that,” Quinlan said.
While Post was upfront with Quinlan about the batting order switch, he kept something else under wraps as long as he could: Quinlan was closing in on the program’s career home-run record of 24 set by 2017 graduate Leah Shipp.
The only people who knew were Post, his assistant Ashley Griese and Jennifer.
Quinlan noticed her mother collecting her home run balls. But when Quinlan asked why, Jennifer told her it was a way to remember her senior season and left it at that.
Then one night, Quinlan asked Post where her home run totals stood in relation to others after a torrid start to the season in which she hit seven homers in her first nine games.
No longer able to keep it a secret, Post told her. Once she knew, Quinlan tried to block it out. Still facing slower pitching, Quinlan hit only one homer in her next six games.
Since then, she has been back in her groove. Quinlan has five homers in her last four games, including two grand slams and nine RBI in a 17-1 victory May 10 at Warren County.
As is tradition, someone fetches each ball to make sure it ends up in the bag Jennifer brings to each game. The bag holds water bottles for her kids and the family dog, Nico, but now added a second purpose.
Usually, Gary Saunders, the father of Brentsville softball player Taylor Saunders, hunts down the ball, even if it means subjecting himself to some scratches in the process. Against Meridian on May 12, Saunders came out of the woods bleeding from his legs.
At the Warren County game, Brentsville softball fan Cheryl Cornett sat behind the outfield fence when Quinlan hit her first grand slam. Correctly believing Quinlan would hit another grand slam in her next at-bat, Cornett went back behind the outfield fence again for the second home-run ball.
And for the record-setter in the second inning against Manassas Park, Quinlan’s boyfriend, Jacob Challberg, took off for the keepsake. Fortunately, it was not stuck in the tree as people initially thought.
Quinlan had never saved a home-run ball before this season but has all of them from 2023 in a basket. None is marked except for the record-breaker. Quinlan inscribed the date and the number on that one after the game. The ball then went into Jennifer’s bag.
“I don’t mean this to sound conceited, but I had no doubt she’d do it,” Jennifer said of her daughter setting the Tigers’ career home-run record. “She’s put in so much work in the offseason.”
Although Quinlan said she never felt any undue pressure to reach the record, she’s glad the chase is over.
“It was definitely a surreal moment,” Quinlan said. “The whole team was so hyped up even though we were winning by a lot. I honestly felt relieved because everyone kept talking about the record and if I was going to get it or not.”
Quinlan plans at some point to put all her home-run balls in a more appropriate place to highlight her achievement. But for now, she’s focused on leading her team back to states for a second straight season.
Quinlan began her high school career at Patriot but transferred to Brentsville after winter break of her freshman year. She preferred Brentsville’s smaller environment. It’s a place where she’s thrived and one that reminds her of her next destination, Christopher Newport University, where she’ll play for one of the top Division III programs in the country.
“[Quinlan] has exploded,” Post said. “It’s fun to watch.”
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