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All-Area Softball: Heart made Barker an ace
BY JUSTIN RICE
Four years ago, then-North Stafford freshman Kelsie Barker wasn’t nearly the pitcher she is today. Her fastball didn’t have the same pop it does today. Her breaking pitches didn’t move nearly as much.
And instead of the icy cool demeanor she flashes now, she was a timid newcomer, unsure of her place on a new team.
All this week, The Free Lance–Star sports department unveils its picks for the spring All-Area high school teams.
Here is the schedule:
Here is the schedule:
Wednesday: Track and field
Saturday: Girls soccer
Sunday: Boys soccer
Barker was 22–3 in her senior season with an ERA below 1.00 and 219 strikeouts. She is The Free Lance–Star’s 2012 softball player of the year.
It’s a far cry from the player she was when she first arrived on North Stafford’s softball field.
“I was nowhere near what I am now,” Barker said. “I was still working on all that. I was short and little.”
She arrived at the North Stafford softball team as one of four freshmen who contributed to the squad, but weren’t yet stars.
“They were all shy and timid,” North Stafford coach Pam Kantor said. “As the year progressed and she became more comfortable with the team and more confident in her abilities it was evident Kelsie was going to be something very special for our program.”
Tiffany Merrill was a senior on that team who had waited her turn to be the Wolverines’ starting pitcher. Likewise Barker would wait, playing mostly second base while Merrill took to the pitching circle.
But she didn’t stop working.
“Kelsie worked harder than any other player I’ve ever coached,” Kantor said. “If she wasn’t at another North Stafford sport practice or game, she was playing on our fall softball team, pitching with her dad up at the field, and when the weather was bad, she was always throwing in her garage.”
The fastball got faster. The rise ball rose harder. The changeup changed.
When she did finally take the mound full time as a sophomore, Barker was electric.
She threw a school-record 222 strikeouts that year with a 0.75 ERA. Her junior year was solid, too—169 strikeouts and a 1.07 ERA.
But this year was best of all, when she carried North Stafford to the Commonwealth District’s regular-season and tournament titles.
“And not just winning the district championship,” Barker said. “But winning it with the people I won it with. I love those girls.”
Barker pitched all 12 innings of a district semifinal win over Stafford, and all 10 innings of the district finals against Albemarle the next night, allowing no earned runs against six hits in the 22 innings of work.
She threw another eight-inning two-hit gem against Forest Park in the Northwest Region quarterfinals, keeping the game close until the Wolverines’ offense broke through.
Through it all, Barker displayed a can’t-be-rattled demeanor that was invaluable in wave after wave of pressure-packed situations.
“Her mental strength became one of her greatest assets as a pitcher,” Kantor said. “She never showed emotion on the mound, didn’t get down on her teammates when they didn’t play solid defense behind her, and most of all, the team always came first.”
Barker will pitch at the University of Central Arkansas next year, a school close to much of her extended family.
The Wolverines will regroup and try to replace the pitcher who grew from an unassuming freshman to one of the state’s best high school pitchers.
“We’re going to miss her next year, and not just for her pitching,” Kantor said. “Her incredible leadership on and off the field, her amazing desire to win.
“But what I will most about Kelsie is her honest, humble demeanor. She wasn’t afraid to speak her mind, but never overstepped her boundaries as a player. I have nothing but the utmost respect for her.”
Justin Rice: 540/368-5045