If there is one program in Southern Illinois that you might want to bet on to be a contender – not just for conference titles, but for regional championships and beyond – over the next five or six years, you might want to look at Carterville softball.
What do West Frankfort, Waterloo, Utica and Montreal have in common?
The nucleus of last spring’s regional championship team is scheduled to return, barring anything unforeseen. The team’s best player, Amayah Doyle, is so good that one online ranking service has her as the No. 1 infielder in the recruiting class of 2024.
In the country.
Then there’s the fact that the Lions’ No. 1 pitcher, Lacie Carr, is, like Doyle, only a sophomore. Name a facet of the game – hitting, pitching, fielding, baserunning – and Carterville is good at it.
And we haven’t even discussed what’s happening with the Lions’ feeder program, which is the gist of this story. On Friday, Carterville’s junior high squad polished off their 67th consecutive win in the state championship game, marking the program’s 10th state title in 20 years.
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It was also the third straight state title for coach Cody Ashton, who also serves as a varsity assistant to Will Capie.
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“I’m no smarter or dumber than I was five years ago,” Ashton said Monday night. “When you have talent, sometimes, the best thing you can do as a coach is not get in the way of talent. You let the players play and not screw it up.”
There is a kernel of truth to that one, but a roster full of talented players can get undermined by poor coaching. If you don’t believe me, just look up the Norv Turner era in San Diego, where Charger teams loaded with skill never even got out of the AFC, much less won the Super Bowl.
Add the fact that championship teams might as well add a target as their logo, because everyone gets up for a defending champ, and you have a fair amount of pressure for 13 and 14-year old girls. Yet the Lions handled it every game.
“We didn’t talk about it at all the whole year, but they knew it was there and knew what the circumstances were and the expectations,” Ashton said. “There was a lot of pressure for them, so when it was finally over, I was glad I didn’t screw it up and they did it. Just proud of them.”
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Ashton and Capie work closely. Ashton teaches Capie’s defensive playbook so that when a player makes the jump to high school, they already know what to expect. Doyle, for instance, made a smoother transition to varsity because she was familiar with Capie’s style.
Not that Doyle’s obvious talent wouldn’t have played anywhere anyway, but when a young player is already conditioned to react instead of thinking about it first, it sure makes it easier for said talent to shine through.
“We are on the same page,” Ashton said of Capie. “When I need help, all I have to do is call.”
Help is on the way to a program already teeming with depth and ability. Carterville is going to be around for several years to come. If it gets a good bounce or two along the way, there’s a chance it’s going to win a state title or two.
And if that happens, look back to what Ashton has helped build the last few years. Winning begets winning and the Lions are going to do a lot of it for a while.
Bucky Dent covers prep sports for The Southern Illinoisan and also votes on the Wooden Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 618-351-5086.