Cartersville’s band of first-year players, a number that totaled nine, helped lead the team’s resurgence from a team that went winless the season before to one that witnessed a 10-win improvement, coming within a game of advancing to the Georgia High School Association Class AAA state playoffs before losing in the Region 7-AAA tournament against Dalton.
One could point to the Lady Canes’ offensive improvement as the team featured a few players with averages above the .300 mark — Floyd, Holsomback and Jackson, who hit .421 — that allowed for a bump in Cartersville’s runs per game average, which went from 0.76 to 3.45 in 2011.
But while the offensive strides from Cartersville were evident, the team’s defensive turnaround was even more drastic as the Lady Canes went from surrendering 15.8 runs per game to 4.5 this season.
You could look to great defense from players like its cannon-armed shortstop Holsomback or rangy outfielder Irvin, but Cartersville’s biggest difference began in the pitcher’s circle where Yantis held an earned-run average of 3.05 and struck out 94 batters, an average of 4.7 per game, while walking 34 opponents.
For her efforts, Yantis is The Daily Tribune News All-County Softball Team Rookie of the Year for 2011.
“It all starts with offseason dedication and hard work and training, and Annalyn is a prime example of that. She had great poise and great leadership on the mound, and that helped her be very successful,” second-year Lady Canes coach Rick Holsomback said. “She was able to locate most of her pitches and added some speed and had a couple different pitches that she could work with. Our big thing is work ahead [in the count], and she was very coachable … She has that inner drive to be successful and that’s something you can’t coach.”
The Cartersville pitcher had to adjust from being one of the oldest players in middle school to competing against players two or three years older.
“Going from middle school to high school, it was a big difference because [in] middle school … we were all older than everybody, so we were just overall better in a lot of spots. But having to go against people older [than me] really changed my perspective of how to go at things, because in middle school I didn’t have to be a leader,” Yantis said. “I just didn’t need the [type of] support from my teammates as I need in high school, and it wasn’t what I expected ’cause I knew it was going to be hard, but I didn’t know it was gonna be as hard. And I’ve never really had to work for a lot of things, and this was one of the times in my life where I’ve had to work the hardest to earn the spot I am [in] now.”
“Anytime a freshman starts and you pitch against girls that are 17, 18 and you’re 14, that’s a mental block you gotta get over, much less a physical sort of intimidation. I think early on she learned a lot,” added Holsomback. “We had a really tough schedule, the first four [region] games were against teams that all went to state and [Ringgold, Heritage-Catoosa and Allatoona] finished in the Elite Eight. I think that taught her how she needs to look at pitches and prepare, like she said, mentally before the game and how to approach it. I just can’t tell you how well she did and how much she matured as a player.”
Projecting how well Yantis would do this season was rather difficult, the Lady Canes coach noted.
“It’s hard to predict. You never know what other teams have and I don’t really worry too much about what other teams do, I worry about what we do because that’s really all that matters. But I was definitely confident in her abilities and I think she proved that she belongs at this level and can compete at a higher level moving forward as long as she keeps working hard, which I know she will,” Holsomback said.
Despite the honor of making the all-county team — Jackson also joined her teammate as a member — Yantis does not plan to deviate from what has led her to success thus far.
“I don’t want to get that too much into my head and think ‘Oh, I don’t have to try anymore.’ … I’m still gonna give as much effort as I possibly can and try to improve as a person ’cause softball teaches me as much about life as anything,” Yantis said. “I’m very blessed to have this opportunity and … my main goal is to be as good [of] a leader as I can.”
The Cartersville freshman pointed out that she wants people to view her as a leader, especially since as a pitcher others will watch her every move.
“For me, I have to stay positive for my teammates to stay positive and that’s all I can do for them, and I want to give them as much as I can,” said Yantis, adding that she wants to display a positive attitude.
Holsomback said the goal for his team next season will be to make the playoffs and produce a winning record after finishing 10-10. To do so, he said, up-and-coming middle school kids will loom large, but returning players like Yantis will be very crucial to taking that next step.
“I think the best thing about her is she realizes her weaknesses and she’s gonna focus on those in the offseason. She’s already learning another pitch … as we speak,” he said. “She realizes she needs to improve her game, which is gonna help the team. She’s working hard every week. I think she’s got big goals for her career, and she wants to achieve ’em.”