Seniors lead way for Callaway

Published 11:10 pm Tuesday, October 17, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – She stayed positive.

Kelly Carlisle’s senior season hadn’t even started, and she was already looking at an extended absence because of an injury.

Carlisle broke a finger in a preseason game and was told she’d miss more than a month, and that was a tough blow for a player with just one season remaining as a high-school softball player.

As one of just two seniors on the team, though, Carlisle knew she couldn’t let that bad break affect her attitude, and it didn’t.

“It was difficult, but I knew I couldn’t get down, because I had to stay up for my team,” Carlisle said. “If I stayed down, they might come down with me. So I just had to do what I could, which was cheer in the dugout. So I just went from there, tried to stay positive.”

Carlisle was able to serve as a pinch-runner while recovering from the injury, and for the past month or so she’s been a full-time player.

Carlisle, along with fellow senior Skylar Rice, has helped Callaway’s softball team make history this season.

Callaway beat Douglass last week for the first state-playoff series win in school history.

Carlisle has been the every-day shortstop since her return and has provided a spark from the leadoff position, while Rice is a first baseman and pitcher, and she anchors the middle of the lineup.

In last week’s state-playoff win over Douglass, Rice hit two three-run home runs in the first inning off a 22-0 victory in Game 2.

Today, both players will be on the field as Callaway takes on Banks County in the second round of the state playoffs with a berth in the final eight on the line.

Both players have been critical to the team’s success not just this season, but over the past four years.

Rice and Carlisle are both four-year starters, and they’ve helped the program reach this point.

Rice has been an outfielder, a first baseman, and a pitcher during her time as a Lady Cavalier, and she’s been a dominant player since day one.

“For four years, she’s been in the middle of the lineup,” Callaway head coach Ashley Summerlin said. “She’s been a three, four, five or six-hole hitter since she was a freshman. Whenever people get on, she really bears down and figures out what she needs to do to get people in.”

This season, Rice has been a first baseman and pitcher, and she excelled in both roles.

“I know she’s hitting over .400, and it’s either her or Oeisha (Jenkins) that’s leading the team in RBIs,” Summerlin said. “And just her leadership, being able to play multiple positions, going to the outfield if she needs to play, go to first base, or pitch if you’ve got to pitch, and being able to do all those things at a high level really helps our team do what we need to do.”

Rice has seen her younger teammates grow into their respective roles this season, and the team has been playing its best softball the past few weeks.

“We really just started coming together as a team,” Rice said. “We’ve just all started working together at the same time. We’ve all been hitting, and our fielding has been coming together. We do have a lot of young girls, and they’ve really stepped up and done what they needed to do for us.”

Summerlin was counting on Carlisle to be the leadoff hitter from day one, but that didn’t work out because of the injury.

Still, she remained a part of the team, and did everything Summerlin asked of her.

“What we told her from the get-go is that even though you can’t play, you’ve got to find a way to help us win ballgames,” Summerlin said. “To do that, you’ve got to be positive. And she came and did everything she could possibly do. She did every drill she could do. And the girls see that. And they see somebody working hard like that.”

Summerlin added that “it was nice to have her there, and be a positive influence on the girls, and really talk to the girls. It helped out a whole bunch.”

Once Carlisle was cleared to return to full-time play, Summerlin started her at shortstop and plugged her back into the leadoff spot, and that’s where she has remained since.

Carlisle said one of the strengths of this team is the close bond the players have developed.

It hasn’t been all smooth sailing this season, with the team enduring a seven-game losing streak at one point, but Carlisle has never seen any signs of dissension among the players.

“That’s a big part of it,” she said. “Whenever something goes wrong, we fix it right away. We’ve got to stay together to make things work.”

For Carlisle and Rice, one of the great pleasures of this season has been the opportunity to play together one more time.

They’ve played alongside each other at Callaway for four years, although their relationship goes back a lot further than that.

“We’ve known each other since elementary school, so we’re more like sisters than best friends, we’re so close,” Carlisle said.

Rice said that tight bond applies to everyone on the team.

“I love it, because we’re all so close, and we really work together as a team so well,” Rice said.

Both players are hoping to continue their athletic careers beyond high school.

Rice is looking to play softball at West Georgia Tech, and Carlisle is exploring her options in softball and soccer.

In soccer, Carlisle helped lead Callaway to its first-ever state win earlier this year, and she scored four goals in the win over Rockmart.

“LaGrange College wants me for both, but that’s a lot with school and everything,” Rice said. “I’m leaning more toward soccer, because I’ve played that longer than softball. But I still love softball.”