Standouts Pearsall, Standley lead resurgence of Independence softball
It wasn’t that the Independence High School softball team wasn’t supposed to be good last year. But to finish second in the Southwestern 4A conference, lose by just one run in the league tournament championship game and advance to the third round of the state playoffs was somewhat of a surprise – even to the Patriots.
A season removed from its impressive run, however, the secret is out: The Patriots are good.
“I think people know now that Independence has good players so it won’t be a walk in the park for us this year,” said the Patriots first-year coach Ken Orsillo. “People will be ready for us. I think we did sneak up on people a little, especially early on, last year. We have to be ready to play this year from the beginning.”
But in addition to having a new coach to get used to, Independence will be working several new players into the rotation this year. But that transition will be made easier since the Patriots didn’t lose any key contributors from last year and can lean on senior all-conference selections Katie Pearsall and Erin Standley to try to improve on last year’s 17-6 record.
Fellow all-conference honorees Brittany Guidera and Meaghan Fowler also return for the Patriots, but the senior leadership of Standley and Pearsall will be paramount in determining Independence’s on-field success.
Standley was the primary pitcher, logging 338 of the Patriots’ 403 total innings, and was dominating at times. She appeared in 20 games and pitched 112 innings while recording 135 strikeouts. Her 2.24 ERA was the best on the team. And when she wasn’t on the mound, she played in the outfield and carried a .380 batting average with a home run, 15 RBIs and a team-high 20 stolen bases.
Pearsall, a catcher, hit .485 with a home run, 17 RBIs and 14 stolen bases. She also scored 22 runs and recorded a .676 slugging percentage.
Both players could be even better this year.
“I know that we tried to win last year, but I don’t think we were as focused as we could have been in practice,” said Standley. “We always played hard when it was game time, but we could have probably practiced harder and been more focused every day.”
Standley and Pearsall said Orsillo, who has previously coached several of this year’s Patriots while on youth softball circuits, makes sure his players are accountable and will help to keep them focused in practice.
Pearsall said the focus at practice thus far has been getting the new girls accustomed to varsity softball and making sure everyone is on the same page, playing the rediscovered Patriots brand of softball.
Before last season, the Patriots had not had a winning season in a number of years. But when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools rezoned Independence’s boundaries, the Patriots wound up with several key players, including Standley, from rival Butler. Now, they are looking to get Independence softball back to form and compete for the program’s first state title since 1999.
“The rezoning did help us out,” Orsillo said. “Butler used to get all of the Matthews girls and all of the Mint Hill girls, and both of those towns have really good softball programs. All of them flowed into Butler, but the rezoning spread the talent out evenly.”
Now, the Patriots will be looked at as the team to beat, but Pearsall said that is fine with them.
“I think we are a better team this year,” she said. “And with everyone back from last year, we are ready to get started.”
Standley agreed, and she believes this season could be special. But the Patriots will not lean on the success of last season.
“For us, last year was more about having fun and getting the Independence program back to where it should be,” Standley said. “I think teams will play harder against us this year, but there is no pressure. Most of us have grown up playing together.”
While at Butler, Standley threw a no-hitter and repeated the feat last season with the Patriots. Orsillo said he wants to use her as much as he can on the mound but also has to keep an eye on getting other pitchers in-game experience.
“Erin is such a smooth pitcher,” Orsillo said. “Some pitchers give away their pitches, but she never does. When she isn’t pitching, she will play in the field because her bat is so good and she has great speed.”
Aside from handling the catching duties and holding her own at the plate, Pearsall has another important job for the Patriots.
“Besides being a really good player, Katie is the type of person who keeps everyone calm and has the type of personality where she can joke around with anyone,” Orsillo said. “This sport is so tough mentally and physically on the girls during the course of a game and a season, and she keeps it light.
“It is great to have both of these seniors who are such good players, good girls and can help us out in so many ways.”
Off the field, Pearsall and Standley, who both will attend Western Carolina University next year, are great students. Standley said she wants to study business administration and law, and she carries a 4.3 GPA. Pearsall wants to be a middle school teacher and study education, and boasts a 3.7 GPA.
Standley might try to become a walk-on player at Western Carolina, and Pearsall has not decided. Orsillo said they both have more than enough talent to play at the next level.
But for their last high school season, Pearsall and Standley are going to focus on restoring the Patriots’ once-proud tradition on the diamond. Along with Guidera and Fowler, Standley and Pearsall are prepared to do all they can to make sure last season was not an aberration.
The Patriots got off to a good start on Feb. 28 with a 4-0 blanking of Hough High, but they have bigger goals in mind.
“We are going to focus on winning the conference tournament by working hard each day in practice and taking each game seriously,” Standley said. “Our fielding will be our strong point, but we have to be more focused and put forth more effort this year since people know about us. If we can get the new players in the mix and have everyone get along, we will be fine and get Independence softball back for good.”