Written by Jeff Berlinicke
Top High School Star Catchers Prove their Value Behind The Plate In
softball, the pitchers usually get all of the ink. The games are on
their arms. The pitchers get the wins, but there’s somebody behind home
plate who deals with the dirt, the heat, and is basically the
quarterback of the team.
That is the catcher. It is not a glamorous position; they usually leave the field muddy and sweaty after spending almost two hours in the heat, covered by protective gear. It takes a lot more than a good arm to play catcher.
It might not be the glamour job, but it can also pay off with state titles and college scholarships. Here are five of the top high school catchers in the country who will be moving on to the next level next season, taking their talent and their dirt right along with them.
(Oak Hall High School, Gainesville, Fla.)
If you are a nationally known catcher, recruited by almost every major college program in the country, the University of Florida is always near the top of the list, especially if you live in Gainesville, Fla., home of the Gators.
That wasn’t the way Taylor King was thinking when she decided to leave Gainesville and sign with the University of Texas where she will be part of the Longhorns’ top-notch recruiting class.
King spent her first two high school years at a small school in Orlando while playing her club ball for the Gainesville Gold. She moved on to Oak Hill and earned all-state honors as a junior when she batted .524 with 27 RBI. She also stole 24 bases in 24 attempts.
Texas coach Connie Clark said it was as much the way that King runs the bases as it was her gaudy stats at the plate.
“Taylor King is a catcher who possesses good size, strength and a solid catcher’s mentality,’’ Clark said. “She also has deceptive speed, runs the bases well, and is a great addition to our running game.’’
In addition to her base running ability, she also had six doubles, four triple and three homers during her junior season and King committed to Texas before her senior year.
“It’s been exciting and (signing with Texas) is a dream come true,’’ King said. “It is where I wanted to go ever since I was nine-years-old. It is the only place I ever wanted to play.’’
King said part of the appeal with Texas was that she is a big fan of former Longhorns pitcher Cat Osterman.
(Yukon, Okla. High School)
Oklahoma might not be known as a hotbed of softball,. But don’t tell that to University of Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso. She had a nationally-ranked seven-player recruiting class coming in next season and all of them are from Oklahoma.
One of the top recruits is catcher Whitney Ellis, who has been catching at Yukon High since she was a freshman. She led her team to the 2010 state championship, but saved her best for last season when she batted .442 with 13 homers and a fielding percentage of .987.
Ellis hasn’t limited her talents to the high school level. She’s been playing for the Oklahoma Exclusive Golf for the past four years, and had 12 homers in 2011, leading the Golf to the 18 & Under Gold National Qualifiers.
Going to Oklahoma was never an issue.
“I always wanted to be a Sooner,’’ Ellis said. “I know that Oklahoma is ready to win a national championship and I want to be a part of it.’’
Gasso was searching for a catcher and knew she had one in her backyard.
“We were searching for catchers and Whitney was definitely one of the best catchers I have seen on the national level,’’ Gasso said. “She has a strong arm and the ability to pick off runners. She has a great arm and will be a great leader.’’
(Edison High School, Huntington Beach, Calif.)
Notre Dame is already solid at catching, but Casey Africano decided to head for South Bend, Ind., anyway. She has put together a solid career in the competitive Southern California softball circuit and spends her summers with the Worth Firecrackers, one of the top club teams in SoCal.
Africano led Edison to an undefeated season as a freshman and was named all-conference and all-city as a freshman and a junior.
"Casey plays the game with confidence, intensity, poise and maturity,’’ said Notre Dame coach Deanna Gumpf. “ She commands the field from behind the plate and has a powerful and explosive bat. We feel confident that all of these qualities will lead to a successful career for her here at Notre Dame."
(Rancho Cucamonga High School, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)
After three years at Rancho Cucamonga, Katee Aguirre has accomplished about all she can accomplish and will be taking her talents to Arizona State next season. She’s started since a freshman at Rancho Cucamonga and it all culminated when she was named First-Team All-Baseline after her junior season. She was also named Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player after her freshman season.
Aguirre played travel ball for the California Cruisers based out of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., for coach Lyn Christensen. With the Cruisers, she helped the team to a first-place finish at the Louisville Firecracker Tournament in 2011, a third-place finish at the 16U ASA Nationals in 2010 and a runner-up finish in 2009.
As a junior, Aguirre had a .390 batting average with 13 RBIs and a pair of home runs in 77 at-bats. Her 10 extra-base hits led the Cougars.
Katie Browne decided to leave Louisiana despite the strong programs at LSU and Louisiana-Lafayette. She’ll still be in Southeastern Conference country, but the Zachary High catcher is headed for the University of Georgia. She had connections with Georgia. She plays at Zachary High for coach Leslie Efferson, who pitched at Nicholls State for current Georgia coach Lu Harris-Champer. Browne could have gone almost anywhere. She is a 6-0 slugger who has been racking up awards ever since starting at Zachary in ninth-grade. She led the Broncos to an eighth-place finish in the state tournament, and the Broncos climbed to third-place in 2010. She’s played at Zachary for four years, and has spent time with the Southern Force playing travel ball.
"Katie is a hard-nosed catcher with phenomenal work ethic that also has a tremendous arm, size and strength that will allow her to become a great Southeastern Conference catcher," Harris-Champer said. "On top of that, she is a mentally-tough individual who will bring great character and work ethic to our program. Her offensive power potential could easily allow her to become one of the top homerun producers in the country by the end of her career at UGA.”
Katie, and her sister, Jessie, who also played for the Broncos, lost their mother in a car accident and a memorial fund has been established on behalf of the Browne sisters.