Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2013

LANDIS — South Rowan’s softball team works on bunt plays often, and assistant coach Hunter Fuller’s favorite play of the year was a bunt.
North Iredell is aggressive, and when South’s third baseman charged in to field a bunt with a runner at first base and the shortstop went to cover second, North Iredell started thinking about moving two bases instead of one.
“No one here, no one here!” was the cry from the third-base coaching box, and the NI runner didn’t hesitate as she sped around second base and kept going.
Only there was someone at third. Someone with a chest protector. South catcher Katherine Starnes had kept sprinting when the bunt was fielded. Starnes took the throw from across the diamond and made the tag, and South had an easy — and unexpected — out.
A play like that is why coaches coach. That Starnes, a senior who has signed with Belmont Abbey, was where she was supposed to be and that the team executed against a tough opponent was worth more than a week’s pay to Fuller.
That may have been Starnes’ best play this season, but there were too many good ones to count.
“She was absolutely the leader of the team in every aspect of offense and defense,” head coach Trisha Long said.
Long and Fuller believe Starnes is one of the best catchers around, and her team wasn’t bad. The Raiders had a winning overall record, although they finished in fifth place. It’s worth mentioning that East Rowan, Carson, North Iredell and West Rowan, the NPC’s four playoff teams, went 4-0 in the first round.
“We did all right,” Starnes said. “Our record didn’t show how strong we really were. I was proud of how well we played in some of our games.”
Starnes started swinging a bat at T-ball age, and sofball always was her favorite sport. A country girl at heart, her next favorite sports are deer hunting, rabbit hunting and squirrel hunting.
She took up catching when she was 8, but she can play other places. South’s coaches believe she was their best option at several positions, but catching ranks second in importance to pitching.
When South had Nicole Barringer catching, Starnes was a sophomore third baseman. That’s the year she suffered a serious setback — a broken arm. She was injured when she was struck by a pitch fired by East Rowan star Chelsea White.
“That was hard,” Starnes said. “But I was able to come back from it and play in the conference tournament. I didn’t want to miss the whole season.”
Starnes was All-NPC in 2012 and will be again when teams are announced for 2013. Besides her hustling defense, she put up fine offensive numbers. She led South in hits (29), doubles (eight), batting average (.433) and on-base percentage (.551). She hit two triples in one game and drove in 14 runs.
Starnes began thinking about hitting line drives in college when Belmont Abbey was recruiting South’s Kaitlyn Jones. Jones started 38 games for the Crusaders this spring as a freshman,
“Kaitlyn got me interested, and Belmont Abbey came to watch me play in the summer,” Starnes said. “I had a few choices, but I liked Belmont Abbey best.”
She could play early. The Crusaders went 10-32 this season.
“Katherine can help any team,” Long said. “She’s a smart catcher as far as knowing what pitches to call and being able to read hitters.”
The only bad thing about Starnes is how hard it’s going to be to replace her.
“She was a great leader,” South second baseman Caroline Hubbard said. “We all respected how hard she played and how much she expected of herself. She’ll be missed.”