By Lew Gilliland/Fort Payne Times-Journal
Holland LaRue admits she likes to talk. It’s a trait that served her well on the softball field.
“I’m a very vocal person,” she said. “Even just being at home with family or something, I’m really loud. Everyone needs vocal encouragement … and I think especially on the softball field. Being the catcher, you need to let everyone know what the play is, where to go, what to do next, what to expect.”
The 2012 Fort Payne High School graduate recently signed a letter-of-intent to continue her career with Gadsden State.
“I think it’s a great opportunity,” she said. “I’m really excited about it. I’m ready to meet some new people and learn about life and freshen up my softball skills. Not only do I get a chance to play the sport I love, I also get a chance to get an education for the future.”
LaRue played three years of varsity softball for Fort Payne, starting at third base as a sophomore and at catcher as a junior and senior. She batted .317 (33-for-104) with four doubles, a triple, a homer and 13 steals for a Lady Wildcat team that went 27-19 this spring and finished a program-best fourth in the Class 5A North Regional Tournament.
LaRue’s verbal skills were not lost on GSCC head softball coach Jeanne Kerr.
“We just love the way that Holland communicated when she came down for a tryout. You know how important that is, because the catcher is the quarterback of a team. That was the thing that stood out for me about Holland.”
Since the Lady Cardinals won’t have any returning catchers for the 2013 season, Kerr expects LaRue to contribute. Kerr signed two other catchers, one of which was Southside High’s Katie Garner. In 19 games this season for the Lady Panthers, Garner batted .273. Another local recruit is Sardis infielder Dreema Holliday.
“We’ve only got four players coming back next year, so the competition for a lot of positions will be wide open,” said Kerr. “A lot of these freshmen will have a good chance for a lot of playing time. Of course, a lot of that will depend on who reports in shape when August comes around.”
LaRue’s teammate Megan Cole also signed with Gadsden State.
Holland and Cole’s chances with Gadsden State were helped by the fact that their high school head coach was Taylor Burt, an All-Conference infielder for Kerr for two seasons.
“We trust Taylor implicitly, and she told us that both of them were good kids,” said Kerr. “That’s the first thing that we look for every year – good kids who are good students that can also play. If you don’t have a good kid, you have a problem.”
“Holland can play pretty much anywhere you put her,” said Burt, who also was a Class 2A All-State pitcher for Sand Rock High School. “When my centerfielder got hurt, she stepped up and played a few games at center field and then switched right back to catcher and didn’t have any problems with either [position]. When she gets to college she’ll definitely be able to be used as a utility [player], especially since she’s going to have time to work on it. Plus she swings a pretty good bat.”
The Lady Cardinals went 10-40 last season after the cancellation of the program in April of 2011 put a damper on recruiting. Out of the 17 players that reported for fall practice last August, only 12 lasted into the spring season. Two players of the remaining players suffered season-ending injuries, leaving Kerr only 10 players with which to field a team.
“We basically were just trying to finish our conference schedule,” said Kerr. “If we didn’t, we would have been put on probation and unable to compete in the next year’s postseason. Record-wise, we definitely didn’t have the type of year that we’re accustomed to.”
Since new GSCC president Raymond Staats reinstated the program in December, Kerr has been able to replenish her roster, and although officially it was only a one-year extension, Kerr noted that all signs indicate that the program is not going anywhere.
“We’re very thankful to [Staats] for that,” said Kerr. “We’ve been told to recruit for the 2013-14 year, so it looks like we’re back to stay.”
Chris McCarthy contributed to this story