The sign on the front of the home team’s dugout at the North Central High School softball field doesn’t have to be changed after all.
The longest line on that dugout sign is for conference championhips, and a ruling by the SouthWestern Indiana Athletic Conference on May 13 kept the Thunderbirds from sharing this year’s title, which would have been North Central’s 12th in the past 16 years — in the former Tri-River Conference prior to their SWIAC affiliation.
There are also six sectional championships listed, as well as two regional titles and one semistate championship, however, and the 2014 Thunderbirds don’t lack motivation in their quest to build on those numbers.
Softball success at North Central is more of an expectation than a hope, those numbers indicate, but even by Thunderbird standards this has been a special season.
This 2014 team defeated all three Vigo County schools handily.
For example, the Thunderbirds scored 29 runs in the three games — even though Terre Haute North, Terre Haute South and West Vigo are bigger schools who combined to win approximately 70 percent of their games. It also threatened to win the season-opening Braves Bash, powering its way into the championship bracket before losing a one-run decision to a ranked Class 4A team Roncalli and a two-run decision to Class 3A’s fourth-ranked Gibson Southern. Nine times this season North Central has won by at least 10 runs, four times by at least 15.
Will any of those stats do a bit of good this week, when the Thunderbirds begin postseason play Tuesday at the Class 2A Sullivan Sectional? No they will not — thus the North Central mantra.
“We’re really focused on taking it game by game, day by day,” coach Erica Ketner-Arnold said recently.
“I take it day by day. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” senior center fielder Gracey Caddell agreed.
“Game by game,” echoed senior right fielder Kirstyn Boyll. “Live in the moment. Make each game count.”
A glance at North Central’s statistics would lead one to think the 21-4 Thunderbirds are being overly cautious. They have a four-year pitching standout in Christian Chambers, a promising sophomore pitcher in Katelynn Kennedy, they catch the ball well — and they can hit. Top to bottom, one through nine in the batting order, they can hit.
Kennedy is batting .494 to lead the team, but table-setters Caddell and Boyll are at .453 and .422, Chambers at .395 and Sam Young at .373. Kennedy is averaging more than a run and an RBI per game, Chambers has 25 RBI and a team-leading four homers, Boyll and Caddell have combined to score more than 2.5 runs per game and eight of the nine regulars have at least 14 RBI. Sophomores Mia McCoskey and Anna Orsburn bat eighth and ninth and are hitting .362 and .361 respectively. Shortstop Laynee Street is among the team leaders in runs scored and second baseman Ariel Povlin among the leaders in extra-base hits.
“It seems like we’ve done better [this year],” Chambers said. “We’ve had girls step up to make this season better than ever.”
“We have a lot of talent and potential, each and every girl,” Boyll noted.
But the Sullivan Sectional is a mine field to start postseason play. Although the Thunderbirds have beaten four of the other five teams in its field, they lost 3-2 to the host Golden Arrows in a regular-season finale on Thursday.
Sitting in the bye bracket with Sullivan is 21st-ranked Linton — North Central is not ranked — and North Central’s win over the defending champion Miners was in early April. Linton has its nucleus back from a team that took Evansville Mater Dei to extra innings in regional play last year — Mater Dei later lost 1-0 to eventual state champion Indianapolis Scecina at the semistate — and has revenge as a motive.
“They come out ready to play us,” Caddell said of the Thunderbirds’ sectional foes.
Oh, and Mater Dei, currently ranked second in Class 2A, is a potential regional foe for whoever wins that Sullivan Sectional.
The Thunderbirds are not intimidated, though. They just want to play, one game at a time, and have been doing that awfully well this year.
Ketner-Arnold indicated the work ethic and team chemistry of the 2014 team has been the best of her four North Central teams. “The little things coaches usually have to worry about? We haven’t had to,” she said. “We can just get on the field and play ball.”
Additionally, she said, “This is a really receptive team, eager to learn. They continually look for ways to improve, and there’s not a lot of individuality; they really play as a team.”
“We have good team chemistry this year,” agreed Chambers. “[This team] feels like your family. It’s enjoyable to come out here [to practice]; it’s a fun time when you get along with everyone.”
“Communication, and backing each other up [is better],” said Young, Chambers’ catcher for all four years. “I try to talk ‘em up, talk about what they did wrong but give positive feedback.”
(Her teammates agree, by the way, that Young will indeed tell them what they’ve done wrong — “That’s Sam,” one said — but is willing to take criticism herself. “I love to get yelled at,” the catcher said. “I do so much better [when that happens].”)
Ketner-Arnold is a fierce competitor herself, but she’d like to see this particular team do well for an additional reason.
“We were 22-5 last year, and my expectations are always high,” she acknowledged, “but this is my fourth year [at North Central] and these seniors are the first class I coached all the way through. … These four seniors know what I expect and really follow through with it.”
“Erica has definitely helped us,” Boyll said. “She’s always pushing us to be harder and work for it.”
“I wasn’t very athletic when I started,” said the ball-hawking, .453-hitting Caddell. “I could barely catch a ball, and I only switched to left-handed batting last year.”
“I’ll be real upset when [high school softball] is over,” said Chambers, hoping to put that off as long as possible.
“We’re ready to start postseason,” Boyll concluded. “We’ve just got to take it game by game.”
North Central hitting order
and batting averages
1. Kirstyn Boyll .422
2. Gracey Caddell .453
3. Katelynn Kennedy .494
4. Christian Chambers .395
5. Sam Young .373
6. Laney Street .314
7. Ariel Povlin .277
8. Mia McCoskey .362
9. Anna Osburn .361