Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
Charleston’s Erin Blair sat down at a table in the media center at Charleston High School, looked up, smiled and let out an “Oh, wow!”
The senior catcher, who had not expected a large crowd of approximately 50 friends and family, signed a letter of intent Wednesday afternoon to play softball for Lake Land College.
“I’ll work hard. I want to do well,” she said. “I’m really thankful for all the opportunities that Coach (Nic) Nelson has given me. I’m just grateful. I want to work hard and just make the most of my time out there.”
She cited proximity to home and coaching as her primary factors on selecting Lake Land.
“Close to home, good program, and they always do well,” she said. “They’re coached really well.”
While Nelson didn’t talk specifics of opportunities to play, he told her she’d have to “work hard.”
“It was a tough decision between two of the three (schools), but I think I made the right one,” she said. “I definitely made the right one.
While Blair plays mostly behind the plate, she’s capable of playing third base and outfield.
“Erin will do great. She’s very versatile,” CHS softball coach Blain Mayhall said. “I know most people as far as Charleston goes knows she’s a catcher. She does a great job for us. She has a command of the pitchers, if that’s where they choose to use her at she’ll do great. But if they choose to use her in other places, she can play infield and outfield.”
Blair got her start in softball as an 11-year-old playing for Mayhall when he guided the Charleston Chill travel team.
Mayhall wanted her behind the plate. As Blair said: “it’s all history from there.”
“He said that I had an arm and I would be good back there,” Blair said. “He and coach Dustin Furry worked with me.”
“I’ve had Erin since 11u travel ball,” Mayhall said. “She’s a versatile player and has a big bat when she’s on. If it’s not for power, she’s quick enough to put the ball in play.”
Few opponents wanted to steal on Blair, who also posted a .949 fielding percentage last season.
“That’s been huge,” he said. “With softball being a fast game, if you can get people into scoring position just takes one little hit and you’re that much closer to scoring. They don’t run on her. While I don’t have stats to give you, there are very few that do. When they do, she throws them out – and that’s a great thing.”
“Because they’re scared,” Blair said, chuckling. “I don’t know. Coach Mayhall has coached me since I was this big,” making a horizontal hand gesture by her leg. “He’s always taught me to be aggressive.”
Blair batted .202 with 25 RBI last season, while being third in the conference with seven home runs.
“As far as her batting, she gets too hard on herself,” Mayhall said. “When she does that, she lacks the confidence she needs. When she’s on, she’s on – and it’s fun to watch. One of the strongest kids at the plate. I look for her to have a breakout year this year. I think she will.”
Mayhall has let Blair call pitches for the middle school team he coaches – a responsibility he hadn’t ever allowed to a player-coach.
“It’s fun to watch her with the middle school girls and giving her that duty of calling the pitches,” he said. “Normally, I don’t do that. That was a big eye opener for me, too, to see her step out of her comfort zone and step into that different role. It made me proud to see her step into that role.”
Blair will continue playing with her battery mate, Karah Moore, who signed her letter of intent for Lake Land on Monday.
“If they choose to use them as a pitcher/catcher duo, then to me that’s a huge benefit for Lake Land,” Mayhall said. “I think they know that and probably why they recruited both of them because they work well together. They know each other well enough to where if something isn’t working they don’t even have to talk about. They can just fix it in the game at game speed.”
Blair’s expectations at Lake Land are really simple: “Just get better, make lifelong friendships, and have fun.”