CARLISLE — Carlisle High School softball coach Tom Shelton will learn really quickly this week what kind of team he has when the Indians play five games in as many days at the Grand Strand Softball Classic in North Myrtle Beach, S.C.
The Indians have a lot to learn about themselves in such a short period of time. They graduated just two seniors, but remain young with only two seniors again this year and one junior.
This is the third time Shelton is taking a team to Myrtle Beach. Players raised money to cut down the expenses. Carlisle is coming off a 11-8 finish (8-4 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Buckeye Division) last year.
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“It’s not a cheap trip, so most of the teams are from big schools,” Shelton said. “We’re playing two teams from Pennsylvania, one from West Virginia and two from Ohio that aren’t around here. The best we’ve done down there was I think 2-3, and then we came back and won the league.
“It’s a chance to see good pitching and a chance to play five days in a row, which you wouldn’t get up here. We’ll see where everyone is at and by the time we come back, we’ll have a solid feeling where everyone is playing and hitting and we’ll be ready to go into the league.”
Carlisle will be led by seniors Sierra Bolen and Bailey Naylor and junior shortstop Caitlyn Stewart. Bolen has been the team’s center fielder and Naylor the catcher for the past three years, and Stewart has played various positions during her two previous seasons. Bolen led the team with a .522 batting average last year, while Stewart hit .500 and Naylor .457.
On the other end of the age spectrum, four freshmen are in the mix for starting spots, including probable third baseman Kaylee Lawson and first baseman Sidney Morris. Four of the five sophomores on the team played varsity last year.
“We’re going to be young again,” Shelton said. “But we have good players, all of them. My main 12 are all solid.”
The bonding time in Myrtle Beach will be helpful for the newcomers especially to settle in with the rest of the team.
Although the girls aren’t all staying together since they are with their families, four of them are staying in one complex and a few others staying near each other in another place. Shelton said the seniors will organize a night to go out to eat and play putt-putt or some other form of entertainment, and with two games being at 8 a.m., that leaves plenty of time for some relaxation and beach time together.
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“It seems to bring them together every time we’ve been down there,” said Shelton, who also made the trip as an assistant in 2009 when he had a daughter on the team.
On the field, the biggest question Carlisle needs answered is how well it can back up the pitching. Junior Haylee Hook, who was a first-team all-league pick last year, transferred to Fenwick in January, and she will be replaced by sophomore Abby Goodpaster. She pitched just 17 innings over three appearances in 2018 and had an 8.65 earned run average.
“She doesn’t have great speed, but she has great location and three or four pitches,” Shelton said. “She’ll be fine, but she’s not what you call a shutdown pitcher like some teams have. I think we will have to have solid defense behind her and score some runs to win the majority of our games.”
Shelton still believes Carlisle can compete with the top teams in the Buckeye Division, though a lights-out pitcher certainly would make that an easier task.
Milton-Union and Madison remain the teams to beat, he said. Carlisle last won a Buckeye title in 2017.
“I feel we’re with the top teams. It’s just, can we get over the hump?” Shelton said. “We have to play well against Milton and Madison. They are the cream of the league, but we’re good enough we could beat either one them and then make a nice run in the (Division III) tournament. Now it’s a super sectional, so we’ll be going north with some good teams, but if we have a decent year, we can get a good seed and maybe win a game or two and see what happens.”