Charleston coach Blain Mayhall was both beaming and deflecting as he watched his four players celebrating with friends and family at the high school library.
A few minutes earlier, these four seniors signed their letters of intent to play softball at colleges across the state.
Pitcher Emily Price is headed for University of Missouri-St. Louis, outfielder Ramsey Armstrong will play at University of Illinois-Springfield, third baseman Kennedy Fellers is set for Lincoln Land Community College and catcher Olivia Hiltebeitel will play for John A. Logan College.
Mayhall has coached these girls since seventh grade at Charleston Middle. But he refuses to take any of the credit.
“They’re the ones who did all the work,” he said.
These four seniors have helped fuel a softball renaissance at Charleston High, where the Trojans have won 30 games and reached the IHSA sectional finals for two straight seasons. CHS had not won a regional title since 1994 and no school team had ever won more than the 24 games recorded in 2010.
This group also helped Charleston Middle make an historic run in the state softball tournament, taking second and third in seventh and eighth grades, respectively, in the school’s first-ever appearances.
“This is just a special group of kids that really get along well together, work well together and treat each other really well,”Mayhall said. “That’s been one of our biggest focuses as a group, and then the wins and losses will take care of themselves as long as they can put that all together. They’ve done a wonderful job of that.”
Price, who pitched mostly for the B-team in seventh grade, earned the second starter role her freshman year at CHS and then became the ace of the staff the past two seasons –– going 35-6, posting seven shutouts and registering a 2.74 earned-run average during that time. Price also excelled at the plate the past two seasons in which she had a 1.242 On-base Plus Slugging percentage, a .735 slugging percentage along with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.
“The kid’s always on the field working,” Mayhall said. “You can drive around town and find her on different fields putting in time.”
Armstrong has posted an .843 slugging percentage the past two seasons and a 1.387 OPS bolstered by her 19 home runs that has resulted in 84 RBI. She also has played flawlessly in the outfield the past two seasons for a 1.000 fielding percentage.
“She’s one of the best hitters I’ve ever coached,” Mayhall said. “The way she swings very aggressive.”
Fellers, who played five positions last seasons, posted a .863 OPS and had a .939 fielding percentage the past two seasons.
“She’s done a great job the last couple of years,” Mayhall said. “She does a great job on how she carries herself on and off the field. I’m very proud of the player she’s become.”
Mayhall calls Hiltebeitel, who has been able to effectively handle the pitching staff since her freshman year, his student coach. She has played nearly flawlessly behind the plate, posting a .989 fielding percentage. Hiltebeitel also posted a .954 OPS the past two season, buoyed by a .454 on-base percentage.
“She has handled our staff really well,” Mayhall said. “They trust her. We trust her to call pitches.”