Big hitter Castle: Monache’s Kailyn Castle was the area’s top hitter and more

A three-sport varsity athlete in only her second year at Monache High School, Kailyn Castle is undeniably special.

Castle shined as a freshman and her superior play continued this season as she led not only the area and the East Yosemite League, but the division, in both batting average (.603) and on-base percentage (.678).

Throw in her perfect fielding percentage along with stepping in as a closer for the Marauders and it’s easy to see why she is The Recorder’s 2018-19 Orange Belt Softball Player of the Year.

Brought up to start on the varsity team as a freshman, Castle made an immediate impact and was an All-EYL second team selection for the reigning CIF Central Section Division II Championship team.

Talent, she has an immense amount,” MHS head coach, Dave Koontz, said. “Potential, that’s almost a four-letter word to me, but talent’s not. She has great talent.

She can hit, she can run, she can field, she can throw,” Koontz said. “She was one of the most talented freshmen we've ever had. And it was obvious from before the first day, that she was gonna be one of the best players in our lineup as a freshman.”

Castle also plays volleyball and basketball but when she’s on the diamond, it’s clear from the first pitch that softball is her best sport.

Acting as the team’s leadoff batter since her freshman year, it’s always on Castle to get things started for the Marauders.

That's the first time you’re seeing the pitcher you know, and most of the time, leadoff’s job is to get on base,” Castle said. “And so you usually have to take a pitch and sometimes taking the first pitch — the first pitch is the best pitch you’re going to see in an at-bat. So it is difficult sometimes but I like starting off the game for my team.”

At the plate, Castle went 44 of 73 with 15 RBIs, nine doubles, four triples and one home run. In the division, according to MaxPreps.com, she drew the fourth-most walks (17) and scored the seventh-most runs (35). She also finished with just two strikeouts on the season — four less than last season. In regards to the entire Central Section, Castle had the 10th best batting average, was 11th in on-base percentage and 19th in slugging (.877).

Koontz said Castle’s ability to hit well can be attributed to her becoming more selective and having “really quick hands”.

She has great hand-eye coordination, she sees the ball really well,” Koontz said. “Just like any batter when she gets in a slump it's generally because she's not getting that hand-eye, not seeing the ball well. But when she's up there I know that she's either gonna walk, she’s going to get a single or she's probably gonna get a double. That's why she batted over .600.”

Castle said she can make adjustments in the batter’s box but gives a lot of credit to her travel ball coaches and Monache’s Scottie Ponciano, who have improved her hitting.

Honestly it goes back to my first travel ball coaches, and I’ve had great, great travel ball coaches my whole life,” Castle said. “And then Scottie, he’s been my hitting coach. They all have boosted my confidence and helped me improve my game.”

Castle plays softball year round and it's the ability to continuously improve that motivates her to take the field every day.

Just the drive to get better and improve myself,” she said. “Like I know I'm really hard on myself ... but I just love improving myself everyday and I like just the competitive atmosphere and the mental game like in the batter's box, on the field. It's a fun game to play overall.”

Essential to her team on both offense and defense, Castle was recognized for her play with an All-EYL first-team selection. She played three different positions — center field, shortstop and pitcher — but it was her time on the mound that became invaluable to the Marauders.

Our team took off when she volunteered to close, and she volunteered, believe me I was thrilled about that,” Koontz said. “[Ariana Rivas] is a young pitcher, she was a young pitcher, and by the time the other teams saw her that third time they probably were gonna hit her pretty hard. The ability to put her in that last two innings and go from a pitcher that was throwing it 50 miles an hour to a pitcher that was throwing at 58 miles an hour, that was huge.”

Everything for Castle is about the team and even when it came to her favorite game of the season, an 8-7 comeback against Tulare Western (17-10, 8-2 EYL) at home, she remembers it less for how she played and more about what it meant for the team.

We took the lead at the beginning of the game and then we got down, 7-4,” Castle said. “And in the seventh inning I remember, Evette [Mendoza], I was on third base and she hit me in and it was one of my favorite moments of the seasons. It was just a great win for us, and as a team it boosted our confidence.”

Against the Mustangs, Castle led the team by going 3 for 4 with two RBIs, a double and a run scored. But as important as confidence is to Castle, it’s not surprising that a statement win like that would be her favorite game when so many doubted the Marauders’ chances this season.

This season went better than anyone had expected for us to do,” Castle said. “I mean losing eight seniors last year and then coming into this season. It was a lot different. And so this year we were super young. We had a freshman pitcher and like she was great for us this season. We couldn’t have done as well as we did without Ana.”

Monache (10-13, 7-3 EYL) took third in EYL and qualified for the Div. II playoffs as the No. 9 seed before losing 3-1 in the first round to No. 8 Sanger (14-16). Castle knows next year’s team will also be young but she still set her goals higher than just qualifying for Valley.

Next year I think that we're gonna be competitive and I think that we have a chance to win Valley next year if all the pieces come together,” Castle said. “We're gonna have another freshman pitcher coming in, so we’ll have more pitching. I think we're gonna be a team to beat next year.”

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