Butler High School began its 2013 softball season with two consecutive losses, but Bulldogs coach Barry Eberhardt wasn’t overly concerned. After all, there was reason to believe that his team, much like its most productive and consistent player, would soon turn things around.
Because of weather postponements, the Bulldogs didn’t have the benefit of playing any of their scheduled preseason scrimmages, and their leading hitter from a year ago – third baseman Caroline Barnette – was just three days removed from helping the Butler girls basketball team to a better-than-expected season.
Behind Barnette’s seven points per game and senior leadership, which Butler basketball coach Mark Sanders often praised during the season, the Bulldogs finished in third place in the Southwestern 4A conference and earned a state playoff berth, an impressive feat considering how inexperienced the team was on the court.
Now, Eberhardt is hoping Barnette can duplicate her magic on the softball field.
Barnette said it will take her a few games to get into softball shape, but when that transformation takes place, she’s looking to build on her 2012 season that served as a coming-out party of sorts.
Barnette was on the team two years ago, but she said competing against older players was far different from the travel ball she’d played each of the previous four summers. As a result, at least statistically, she struggled some at the plate.
“It was really different,” Barnette said. “I was used to playing with people who are all my age, and (at that time I was) a sophomore going against seniors. It was tough.”
But in Eberhardt’s eyes, Barnette was doing all the right things and preparing herself for her strong junior season.
“She’s been pretty steady the whole time,” the second-year coach and longtime assistant said. “She was pretty solid as a sophomore, but now she hits it a little harder, throws it a little harder and is a better all-around player.”
Barnette had a breakout junior campaign, during which she was named to the all-conference team while leading the Bulldogs with a .397 batting average. She also scored 17 runs while compiling 20 RBIs, five doubles and a home run, all while being one of the conference’s best defensive third basemen.
And when the Bulldogs needed her on the mound, Barnette was more than capable, posting a 2-1 record while striking out 16 batters in 29 2/3 innings of work.
Eberhardt said Barnette will again be a key component this season.
“We need her,” Eberhardt said. “The better she does, the better we’ll do as a team, especially with our youth this year.”
Barnette is one of just three seniors on a Butler team full of promising, young players who, like Barnette last year, will be looking to take the next step this season.
“I do feel more of a weight on me to be a leader this year,” she said. “Most of the girls know what to do already from having played last year and on JV, so it’s not totally new to them. But I feel like I need to help show them the way.”
Eberhardt said that shouldn’t be much of a stretch, as Barnette is a natural leader who’s already shown she can lead a team with her work on the hardwood.
“She’s great,” Eberhardt said. “She’s always upbeat, she has a great attitude and she’s a team player. I wish I had more (players) like her.”
Eberhardt said that because of Barnette’s travel softball regimen, leadership, attitude and considerable skills between the lines, he assumed she was being recruited by a number of colleges.
“I always thought she was out there and had a lot of people looking at her,” Eberhardt said. “She can play (Division) I, and she can definitely play at a high level.”
But it turns out that wasn’t the case for Barnette.
“I didn’t really know how everything was supposed to work with recruiting,” Barnette said. “I got into it really late and just started the process (last) summer.”
Barnette said she’s always wanted to play college softball and figured she’d eventually get the chance. Her grandfather, Bill, played baseball and basketball at Greensboro’s Guilford College and had urged her to contact his alma mater’s softball coaches and see what it would take for her to play there. So she did.
“Normally, people have already committed during their junior year,” Barnette said. “I e-mailed the coach, and he was the first coach to respond to me. He told me what I needed to do and invited me to a camp at Guilford. I was really happy that the Guilford coaches were still accepting people and that it wasn’t too late for me.”
Once Quakers coach Dennis Soares saw Barnette, he was impressed and offered her a spot on the team, something Eberhardt said was a no-brainer in his mind.
“I think she could help any team that she’s on because of all that she brings to the table,” Eberhardt said.
Before Barnette follows in her grandfather’s footsteps, she wants to make sure the Bulldogs get their season on track. While much of the team’s success will rest in Barnette’s capable hands, she won’t be alone.
Senior pitcher Shannan Mas went 12-11 last season, striking out 150 batters in 128 innings. Junior second baseman Megan Quintero hit .314 with 10 RBIs, and senior Jessica Pryor drove in 10 runs. This season, Eberhardt expects sophomore Emma Swenson and freshman Aleigh Hastings to contribute.
But Barnette’s biggest test might come from within her family. Her sister, sophomore shortstop Allison Barnette, who Eberhardt said is on the fast track to becoming the Bulldogs’ next star, was second on the team with a .373 average and had 12 RBIs during her freshman season. Allison is Butler’s leading hitter through two games this year.
“I sort of feel a little rivalry with her,” Barnette said of sharing the left side of the infield with her younger sister. “I don’t know if she does or not, but if I see her get a base hit, then I know I have to get on base, too.”
The Barnettes are the Bulldogs’ top two returning hitters and will have plenty of chances to get Butler going in the right direction. And while a slight sibling rivalry might exist, Barnette is ready to leave her mark on the Bulldogs’ program and move on to the next chapter of her career.
“I think I’ve gotten a lot better at hitting than I was my sophomore year,” said Barnette. “So far this year, I’ve been hitting the ball OK, but I want to improve on it. And my fielding isn’t where I want it to be just yet, but it will get there.
“I think, overall, our team is much closer this year, and I hope that us being so close will make us play well on the field.”
Eberhardt believes his senior standout is the key to just how good the Bulldogs can be.
“Caroline is a good softball player, and we’ll need her to do well,” Eberhardt said. “I have confidence in her as a player. She makes good grades and is a good person to have on the team. I expect big things from her this year, and I expect she’ll have a great career at Guilford.”