Before Tuesday’s practice in a gym filled with colorful banners and softball players in black, Pilot Point senior Skylar Cagle looked over the rows of players seated on the hardwood.
The downpour outside may have created a lake in front of the school and washed away outdoor practice, but on this day and all other days, Cagle assumed her duty of checking roll before practice began.
It’s the consistency of the task that marks Cagle’s time at Pilot Point — time that will conclude whenever Pilot Point’s season ends and she moves on to pitch at Northwestern State in Louisiana.
If Cagle keeps pitching the way she has been all season, that time may not be this weekend when the Lady Cats (37-2) face Brock in the best-of-three Class 2A Region II finals. The first game is at 7 tonight at Saginaw Chisholm Trail, with Game 2 on Friday and a potential Game 3 planned for Saturday at the same location.
Pilot Point coach James Ramsey said he’s never had somebody as consistent as Cagle for four straight years.
“I’ve had some good ones, but there’s usually been some off years and some good years, but she’s been pretty consistent,” Ramsey said.
Her statistics from this season not only attest to her consistency but to her dominance in Pilot Point’s first year back down in Class 2A.
Cagle has a record of 24-0 with an earned run average of 0.79. But the statistic she known for — the number that best tallies her dominance — is the 221 strikeouts she’s piled up this season.
With glitter and eyeblack smeared on her cheeks, Cagle pitched a no-hitter against Commerce last weekend and struck out 22 batters over the course of the two-game sweep. The series victory propelled the Lady Cats one round further than they went last season.
This year, she has struck out a little better than one out of every three batters she has faced. Ramsey said her strikeout total is lower than it was during her freshman and sophomore years because she wasn’t splitting time in the circle back then.
“She definitely did not play like a freshman,” Ramsey said. “Everybody I think was kind of blown away by the success she had early. I mean, she’s had some struggles, but she’s had a lot of success.”
When she was younger, her father, John Cagle, put her in a bunch of sports. One of her father’s friends suggested that Skylar take some pitching lessons when she was about 9.
She got more serious about softball, and her pursuit of perfection began.
“She loved it, and we would have to make her take breaks in summer and winter,” John Cagle said. “She just didn’t want to quit. We didn’t really ever push her. That’s just what she really wanted to do. She loved it.”
Both her head coach and her father commented on Cagle’s work ethic. Cagle drug her father back to the family’s storage barn to work on pitching. John Cagle built a batting cage at the end of the barn to work on her swing.
“She pretty much wanted to pitch every day and practice pitching,” John Cagle said. “There were several nights I wasn’t up to it and she dragged me out there. We spent several nights up at the barn.”
Cagle has a team-high batting average of .612 and is second on the team in home runs (five) and RBIs (37).
“A lot of kids say they want to be better but they don’t really put in the time, and she does,” Ramsey said.
No matter how much time she’s put in and how much she’s improved, the nerves she carried onto the field as a freshman have stuck with her at the end of her senior year.
Cagle remembers the nerves she had for her first playoff contest against Burkburnett, a game Pilot Point won easily. She can’t remember how many strikeouts she piled up.
She said she enjoys it when Ramsey chooses to be the visitor to start a series because it calms her nerves. The nerves have subsided since her freshman year, but they still linger before starts.
“There were times when she was really nervous, and she still gets nervous,” Ramsey said. “It’s just different than playing select ball.”
When Cagle steps into the circle before each inning, she kneels, swipes a cross into the dirt and prays. Some prayers are longer than others, depending on the score, the inning or what she’s worried about.
Cagle said that she’s gotten better about reeling in nerves that stem from the weight of pitching for her team, her coaches and her town.
“I’ve gotten better controlling them, but I think it’s just the fact that you’re playing for something so big,” Cagle said.
Sophomore pitcher Preslee Galloway, who’s a solid pitcher in her own right, said Cagle has helped her transition to the circle and has been a great leader and role model.
“It was hard at first, just me being a freshman,” Galloway said. “And then she helped me be confident in myself. If she was at shortstop, she’d say, ‘Come on, you got this!’ Even though she was at [shortstop], she wouldn’t be standoffish. She’d be helping me. And that just made me feel more confident, saying I got this.”
After this season, the circle will be Galloway’s to preside over. Ramsey will lose his best hitter, his best pitcher and a player he’s grown to trust over four consistently strong seasons.
“I look at her almost like my daughter,” Ramsey said.” I’m looking forward to seeing her play at the next level, and hopefully she’ll do well. And I know she’ll do well and move on in whatever avenue she chooses later on in life.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.