NEW ULM - At the beginning of the softball season, Brittany Denn wasn't even sure she wanted to be a pitcher any more.
That's a feeling that quickly went away after her start on April 12.
Against the New Ulm Cathedral C-squad that day, Denn - an eighth grader at St. Paul's Lutheran - pitched a 15-strikeout perfect game, striking out every single batter that she faced.
It was likely the first such feat in school history, though Denn was hardly aware that she was making history until her teammates rushed to the pitcher's circle to hug and congratulate her afterward.
"It was a good feeling," Denn said. "I struggled last year pitching, and this year to be able for my first game to pitch a no-hitter, or a perfect game, was good. I mean, it was shocking. I didn't really know it until my coaches told me."
St. Paul's head coach Natalie Borgwardt has experienced some memorable moments throughout her coaching career - including having one of her high school teams win a district tournament when she was coaching in Arizona - but she ranked Denn's all-strikeout perfect game as one of the top experiences she has had while coaching at the grade school level.
"You have no-hitters, you might have the perfect game where people hit their little dribblers to shortstop and you have no runs, you have nobody on base, but to have every hitter be struck out? That's never happened in my coaching experience," Borgwardt said.
Denn's accomplishment is particularly remarkable since command of the strike zone is usually one of the last things a pitcher gains confidence with in their career.
"A high school pitcher, they have more control, but for a grade school pitcher to pitch that many strikeouts? It's just unheard of, because they haven't developed the control yet at that age," Borgwardt said. "They're more likely to throw 15 walks than they are to throw 15 strikeouts."
Denn said that her struggles with accuracy and hitting her spots were the major reason that she had doubts about continuing her career as a pitcher heading into this season.
"I almost didn't pitch this year," Denn said. "It's a lot of work, it takes a lot of time. I mean, I used to struggle, but practice always makes perfect."
Denn's perfect game resulted in a 3-0 victory for St. Paul's in the first game of a doubleheader. However, Cathedral struck back for a 7-6 victory in Game 2 against St. Paul's second and third best pitchers.
Borgwardt noted that the Greyhounds' resurgence in Game 2 proves that Denn's perfect game can't be attributed to facing a weak lineup.
"It wasn't like those kids from Cathedral couldn't hit, because obviously they hit our second and third pitcher," Borgwardt said. "It wasn't like we ended up routing them both games, we lost the second game. That's an interesting twist to it, too."
During the game Denn not only had to overcome the Greyhounds' hitters, but also had to battle against the elements. There was a stiff breeze and cold temperatures on the day, forcing Denn to make adjustments from her usual routine such as her placement on the mound and calculating the wind factor into where she was aiming her pitches.
However, Denn attributes her fast velocity and help from catcher Bergan Forst as helping her overcome the conditions.
Forst and Denn have teamed up for three years now at St. Paul's, with Forst serving as Denn's catcher in every game that she pitches.
"She's a main part, she always is encouraging me when I'm struggling," Denn said of Forst. "She always comes out and she knows what to say, she's really helpful."
Denn, who has already established herself as an impact player for the New Ulm High School hockey team, will take some added confidence from her accomplishment when she joins the NUHS varsity softball team next spring.
"I know I'm not going to quit now," Denn said. "I've had a couple older girls saying they'd like to help me get more pitches, I pitch a fastball and a changeup. A lot of encouragement from people has made me think that I can do it and I should keep going."
Achieving such a rare feat is usually a once in a lifetime event, and it may take a significant amount of time for it to happen again for another St. Paul's pitcher. But does Denn think she has it in her to pitch another all-strikeout perfect game during her career?
"I do," Denn said. "I mean, if I'm on, I think I can do it."