The North Lamar Pantherettes softball team seems to put a strong team on the field year in and year out. When several great players graduate, the powerhouse program reloads with another talented roster. After turning some eyebrows as a powerful freshman, North Lamar’s junior catcher Sloane Hill has raised her level of play each season as she is in the midst of putting together what could be her best season yet — even if it was not always her original gameplan.
“I just started catching my freshman year and I accidentally left my stuff in my catching bag, so I just thought, ‘Well, I just have to bring it to school,’” Sloane said. “Then, (Coach) Endsley came up to me at school and asked me if I was a catcher. I told her I didn’t know and she replied to me saying it was a ‘yes or no’ answer, so I told her I was a catcher — I just wanted more opportunities to play. I wasn’t confident at all, I just started catching, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I had only watched catchers play — I didn’t know anything.
Her initial lack of knowledge did not keep Sloane from working on her skills while crouching behind home plate along with any other challenge she took on. Instead, she continued to work diligently on her own game and with her pitchers.
“I stayed after practice at least once or twice a week and, as time progressed, I worked on my blocking and other skills that gave me a lot of experience,” Sloane said. “Even when Karsyn (Iltis) and Jaycie (Hall) would go pitch, I would try to get in on there to get more experience, which I think sent a signal out that no one’s spot is guaranteed…I became more confident in myself, my pitchers, and I think it’s poured over into the rest of the team. I’ve become a more vocal leader through this and I think it is showing.”
Spending countless hours of work on her game with her teammates was a rewarding lesson and reflective moment for Sloane, and she has learned to appreciate the sport she loves even more.
“It’s really helped our mental perspective because you never know what can happen, especially at this time with COVID and everything, you never know when your season is going to get cut short,” Sloane said. “I think we’re a lot more grateful to be on the field because we’re more pumped to be out there when we get to go out there. Everyone has the mentality to work hard and get everything done, and that is when you’re successful — when everyone is 100 percent bought in. I think we are getting there.”
Not to be forgotten are Sloane’s teammates, who she said helped encourage her during a recent win over Bells, where she had a pivotal RBI double that proved to be the difference in the 5-3 victory.
“I had my teammates there when I wasn’t doing too hot, and they definitely picked me up, which led to me coming in clutch,” Sloane said. “None of that would have happened if they didn’t pick me up in the dugout, though.”
The Pantherettes were State Champions in 2010 and runners-up in 2016. Playoff success is in North Lamar’s DNA but the greater mission continues to take precedence.
“State is always on the back of our minds but you don’t want to make that too known. We know what our end goal is, and we are working game to game, inning to inning, and pitch to pitch because you can’t get to where you need to be if you’re worrying only about a certain game,” Sloane said. “You can’t take anyone lightly either because you never know what they have in their back pocket or when you’re going to get caught on your heels. We have nine upperclassmen this year and we all kind of know that this is our year to make it, which is motivation to get out there and work our butts off…We are just taking it game to game.”
Before she joined the varsity squad as a freshman, Sloane played years of travel softball. She started this journey on the local stage and, when she realized her passion to go as far as possible in the sport, Sloane decided to advance.
“Whenever I was in 8U through about halfway through 10U, I played for a travel team around here, and Denise Holland from Chisum was my first travel coach,” Sloane said. “People around here were going to Texas Glory and other big organizations, so I went to their tryouts because I really wanted to do something big with softball. Of course, I was nervous but I had a little bit of confidence…I got in with Glory and that is who made me the player who I am today. I had great coaches and it isn’t necessarily ‘daddy ball’ or anything with small-town politics like who goes to school with who did what to who. When you got there, you actually had to earn your spot, and I did by working my butt off, which was great even with going to Dallas every weekend…it was worth the two-and-a-half-hour drives. Being with all the girls pushed you to be better and, I was told once you’re the best player on the team, that’s when you know you’re on the wrong team — because you know you need to keep moving up.”
During times of stress, Sloane goes to her personal sanctuary. Whether it means hitting in batting cages or working on her catching skills, working on her softball game with her friends l helps Sloane escape from the dog days.
“Me and the girls would get together when everything got shut down to go hit at batting cages at Camper Dan’s,” Sloane said. “After COVID got more serious, fewer people came, but me, Karsyn Iltis, Ashlyn (Reavis), and Emma Layton would all go hit — we even painted and made a playhouse to hang out in. That was an everyday thing, which made us better because we wouldn’t accept the fact that softball was canceled — we still had hope. It really helped me and you saw the passion from all four of us — we wanted to be there and work on the sport we love to play.”
So far, Sloane’s hard work has paid off as she has posted a .429 batting average with 27 total hits (7 2B, 3HR) and 26 RBI. Through her first days as North Lamar’s catcher up to this season, Sloane recalls being both pushed and humored by her coaches the whole time.
“We were at the McKinney Tournament my freshman year and I had never been in to catch or anything,” Sloane said. “It was just not a good day and on top of that it was like a prescreening for me, but she told me that I was the catcher after, ‘Yeah, so you’re our catcher now,’ and I was like, ‘Oh…okay? Sweet!’…I always love her singing and karaoke on the bus, and Coach (Kathy) Barker’s faces she makes during those times are always really funny.”
Sloane and the Pantherettes will face the Pleasant Grove Lady Hawks in a district contest at 6 p.m. tonight in Texarkana. For more sports and outdoor coverage, click here.
Photo by Joe Watson