Frank Karl coached the majority of the girls who comprise Shade High School’s softball team from the time they played T-ball and coach pitch.
Karl was there when the group, as elementary-school students, once rallied from an 18-run deficit to win a game, and he hoped to be there when the group reached the varsity level.
“I always hoped to get a chance to coach them when they got older,” Karl said. “They’re a great group. They have so much fun playing this sport. If someone gets a cold, they want to play through it. If someone is injured, I’ll go up and ask if they want to play and they always want to play through it.”
Of course, winning increases the joy of competition, and Shade’s been doing plenty of that since Karl became coach last year. In his first season with the group he’s known for years, the Panthers responded with a respectable 14-5 record.
The 2013 season has been even better.
In fact, Karl’s group is doing things rarely accomplished at the school.
At 14-1, Shade sports the best record of any softball team within The Tribune-Democrat coverage area. The Panthers locked up the WestPAC South title last week and earned a spot in the conference championship game.
That hasn’t happened since 2002, when Shade lost to Portage in the WestPAC championship game.
“We lost five seniors from last year, but I knew the group of athletes we were getting. I looked forward to it,” Karl said. “I knew we were getting good ball players.”
Shade’s rise to the top of the WestPAC standings has been anything but typical.
The Panthers don’t play a senior, don’t start a power hitter and they use three pitchers.
Sophomore Kaily Karl leads Shade in batting average (.478), hits (22), runs (26) and stolen bases (41) – the Panthers have 137 steals as a team. Classmate Lexie Rapsky is batting .396 with two of Shade’s four home runs. Freshman Mikayla Ott has team-highs in doubles (five) and RBI (eight).
“I feel all nine of our starters at any given time can hit the ball. There’s not a weak spot in the batting order,” Frank Karl said. “There’s not a true cleanup hitter either, but we have nine girls who can hit.”
And three that can pitch.
Junior Lexi Meck is the oldest of a group that also includes freshmen CeCe Corradini and Brianna Brown, a student from Johnstown Christian School, which has an athletic co-op with Shade.
Meck throws the hardest. Brown has the best movement. Corradini has the best placement.
“They all bring something different to the game. Sometimes, the decision is very hard who to pitch,” Karl said. “It’s nice knowing that if I make the wrong call one day and one isn’t working, we still have two others to work with.”