High School Sports

Charlotte Catholic softball rolling toward N.C. 4A playoffs

Charlotte Catholic pitcher Carrie Eberle fires off a pitch during softball practice at Jack Hughes Park in Pineville on Tuesday.
Charlotte Catholic pitcher Carrie Eberle fires off a pitch during softball practice at Jack Hughes Park in Pineville on Tuesday. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Charlotte Catholic senior pitcher Carrie Eberle said she thought this year’s high school softball team had a chance to be special, although she wasn’t sure. After all, the Cougars – who had posted four straight winning seasons – were going to be heavily dependent on nine freshmen who were talented, but who hadn’t played one inning of varsity ball.

“I knew this freshman class we had was going to bring some of the best talent we’d had in my four years here,” said Eberle, a Virginia Tech recruit. “We knew we had a chance to be good and vie for a conference championship, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be this good.”

Charlotte Catholic, which will play in the SoMeck 8 conference semifinals Thursday, has won 21 straight games and rocketed up to No. 3 in the N.C. Softball Coaches Association poll, trailing No. 1 Cape Fear and No. 2 West Forsyth.

Since losing 5-2 to Central Cabarrus March 2, Catholic has outscored opponents 190-14. That includes a three week span, from March 21 to April 15, when the Cougars didn’t allow a run in nine games, outscoring opponents 97-0.

Maybe Eberle didn’t expect it, but Catholic has been very, very good.

After receiving a forfeit from Harding in Tuesday’s first round of the conference tournament, Catholic is 22-1.

“No one really knew,” said Catholic coach Kathleen Murphy. “I knew we were getting an influx of players who play year-round, but I did not know all the pieces of the puzzle were going to come together like they did.”

Eberle is having a monster year, batting .604 with 32 RBIs and 10 of her team’s 13 home runs. Most teams are now choosing to walk her. As a pitcher, Eberle is 19-1 with an 0.42 ERA and 174 strikeouts.

A lot of help

Murphy expected that from her star. But what she didn’t expect was how much help Eberle has gotten.

Senior Hannah Samuelson is hitting .381 with 29 RBIs and 11 doubles. Freshman Suzie Borda hits .400 with 22 RBIs, 10 doubles and four triples. Two other freshmen hit .500 or better: Page Rivas (.587, team-high 14 steals) and Kendall Saulsby (.500).

And Murphy thinks freshman catcher Sam Reele could be the best catcher she’s ever coached in her career, which is more than 20 years old. Reele hits .433 with 18 RBIs, but it’s her defense that has Murphy buzzing.

“Sammy is probably the best catcher to come through Charlotte Catholic,” Murphy said. “She handles Carrie’s speed and movement. Sammy calls Carrie’s pitches on her own and that is very impressive for a freshman. She just handles herself so well behind the plate with a lot of confidence and is really outstanding.”

No titles since 2008

Fourteen years ago, Murphy coached a Catholic team that reached the N.C. 2A state finals. Back then, Mecklenburg County was dominant in fast-pitch. From 1999 to 2008, Mecklenburg teams won seven of 11 state titles in the 4A class, North Carolina’s largest and most competitive. But since Butler High won in 2008, no Mecklenburg team has reached the championship round.

“Over the years,” Murphy said, “I know there are a lot more girls’ sports that have come up, like girls’ lacrosse taking off. We lose players to things like that, and there’s also this belief that girls should only play one sport. I coach basketball at middle school and it’s hard, that belief that you have to give up all other sports to stick with one and I don’t know if that’s true. Carrie played four years of basketball at Catholic and started.

“I think it’s important that girls play a lot of sports but because (of the specialization), a lot of girls, unlike boys, get more burned out. I have seen a trend of girls walking away from softball because they played it too much.”

A love of the game

Murphy thinks her team has a love for the game and the passion to want to do well. She thinks these Cougars have a shot to end Mecklenburg’s drought, and with nine freshmen, junior first baseman Sarah Anderson and just two seniors (Eberle and Samuelson), the future at Catholic is bright.

But right now, the team no one was quite sure how good it could be, well, it’s good enough to make a real run for a title.

Everyone is focused on that.

“I try to not look ahead too much,” Murphy said, “but I draw a lot of parallels with this team and the 2002 team. We are capable. We are going to be in every game we play. I think this team has the potential to go all the way, but it will take a total team effort. One player is not going to get us a state championship.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr