By Brett Marshall
Since they were 9-year-olds, Hailey Dart and Erykah Foster have pretty much played their entire softball careers with one pitching and the other catching.
That’s the way it works when you have a good battery (nickname for pitcher and catcher combo) in the sport.
The two, now seniors and only a few games away from seeing their four-year high school career coming to an end, hope to propel the Garden City High School Lady Buffaloes softball team to another appearance at the Class 6A state tournament.
“When we are out there, and have that chance to do as much as we can for the team, we trust each other,” said Foster, who has been a three-year starter behind the plate. “We have each other’s back.”
Both players get the pitching signals from head coach Trina Moquett, so they both know what type of pitch Dart will be hurling toward home plate. No fooling around, Foster knows what’s coming, too.
“The bond we’ve developed through high school helps you become a leader and you know what you’ve learned, and then try to pass that on to the underclassmen,” Foster said.
Dart, who has been plagued some of her senior season with a hip injury, said there is a high level of comfort for her knowing that Foster is on the receiving end of her pitches.
“I knowif I miss the spot, that she’ll get it,” said Dart, who was a back-up pitcher to her older sister, Abbi, her sophomore year, but has been the primary starter in each of her junior and senior seasons. “I actually started out as a catcher, so I think that helps me understand what she has to do back there.”
Foster said the responsibility of knowing what pitches are coming, and then being the one who can see the entire field, adds to being prepared for any opponent.
“You know you’re the ultimate leader and you know how the pitcher is going to pitch,” Foster said, “so it gives you the chance to see the whole field.”
Dart said that she has matured as a pitcher, and mixes her different pitches more now than she did in her earlier high school career.
“I’ve really worked on my spins and the curve, so I think I’m more of a ground ball fly ball type of pitcher,” Dart said. “I put a lot of trust in the defense to back me up so there’s a lot of confidence that we build up.”
Foster said she enjoys catching because one aspect is watching the spin on the ball that Dart delivers to her each pitch.
“You know how it’s coming, and I just love it when the girls look at it,” said Foster of strikeouts recorded by Dart.
Dart, who also plays center field when not pitching, said she enjoys fielding her position as well.
“Being a left-hander I’ve got to get a bunt and make that extra turn to throw to first base,” said Dart, “so I’ve got to have quick reflexes. But I really like to field ground balls.”
When both were sophomores, the Lady Buffs qualified for 6A state and then helped the team to a third-place finish, the best in program history. They’d like a repeat opportunity as the 2019 season comes to a close (the Buffs were 13-1 heading into the May 3-4 Emporia Tournament).
“It’s a big opportunity for us to make history again,” Dart said. “I got to do that with my sisters and I’d like to have that chance to do it again.”
Foster said that this year’s edition of the Buffs had developed a much stronger chemistry, close-knit relationship amongst the players.
“I think we have a better mindset and we’ve done a better job of picking each other up and not getting down, kind of like what we did last year,” Foster said.
When the high school season comes to a close sometime in May, Dart will be moving on to Fort Hays State University where she will begin studying nursing, but will not be playing any softball at the NCAA Division II level. Foster, meanwhile, will head to Cowley College in Arkansas City, where she will compete for the NJCAA Division II Tigers, one of the top programs in that division in the country.
“I’m going to have a chance to play for a good program, and that’s exciting,” Foster said. “I’ll study special education because I really want to work with kids.”