Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend

Ask any man, married or single, what catches a woman’s eye quicker than anything, and the number one answer is likely to be a diamond. Yet they are expensive and rightly so, because mining for diamonds is tough. Inquire of any prospector that has ever ravaged the earth looking for one, or even any weekend prospector that has visited the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas. It is often a muddy, uncomfortable task where the reward is not commensurate with the effort put forth to obtain it. Yet there is one young lady that shines so bright in Northeast Texas, she has made prospectors of a different kind come to the diamond to find her. Carlee Ratcliff is one true gem that showcases her talents every weekend that she takes to the softball field, and spectators are treated every time that she is on display.
The main question that intrigued me from the start about interviewing an athlete of Carlee’s age was “How do you know someone is so good, so early?’ Her dad John tells a story about Eddie Avery, who was umpiring a T-Ball game of which she was participating. Eddie pointed at her and told John that girl was the best player that he had ever seen, not knowing that it was John’s daughter. The focus, the athletic ability, the drive and the determination all came naturally and early for Carlee.

When she was playing In 8U league, she started out with the Rockettes in New Boston, TX. Yet as she played tournaments and gained exposure in softball leagues around the area, other coaches became aware of the special talent that she possessed. Teams from other towns kept calling and wanting her to play for them. The Pixie Chicks, Bad Company, American Freedom, Explosion, Impact Gold and the Louisiana Rippers just to name a few. There may have been many teams over the past few years, but there has been one consistent coach and that has been Jared Stringer. Jared tells of a time when he was coaching another team, and they were playing against Carlee’s team. It was the last inning and his team was at bat. He was coaching first base, they had bases loaded, two outs and their best hitter was at the plate. Down by one run, he knew that they were going to win the game, because the odds were stacked in his favor. Carlee was playing first base that day, when the batter lofts a soft fly ball down the first base line toward the dugout. Carlee takes off running and dives for the ball. As she catches the ball, she curls up and rolls full force into the fence and manages to hang on for the final out. Game over, Coach Stringer loses, but he goes over to Carlee, helping her up from the ground and tells her “that was the best play that he has ever seen.” Not too long after that incident, Carlee made the decision that she wanted to play for Coach Stringer instead of against him. Now he has first hand experience on just how talented “Ratt” is on and off the softball field. He describes her as “extremely talented”, with “tons of God given natural abilities.” and “a game changer.” Any time there is a need to make something happen on the base paths, at the plate or in the field, Carlee is the one he calls on to get it done. Coach Stringer says that he sees this on a consistent basis in practice when she wants “just one more” ground ball or “just one more” time to hit. Her work ethic and attitude permeates to every player on her team, and she instantly makes any team that she plays for a better one. There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe how much of an impact she has made on his life, but one item is for certain, he is proud of her and quick to tell anyone else how he feels.

Her hitting coach Mikie Catron describes her as “competive, with a ton of drive”. His knowledge of the game, and the father of a daughter who plays at McNeese State University, Mr. Catron speaks with an insight that is rare in today’s society. He commutes from Mineola to the Berry Camp in Atlanta once and sometimes even twice a week to coach players and softball teams. He has a passion for the athletes in Northeast Texas, and while he is interested in the individual improvement of players, he is more concerned with how they function as a team. He is the coach of American Freedom, and he has been giving Carlee hitting lessons for a number of years. He explains that Carlee’s bat speed is one thing that sets her apart from players her age. Clocked at 77 mph, her swing is more like that of a 20 year old collegiate softball player. He has even seen her snap the handle off a brand new softball bat. Her situational awareness and ability to think ahead is another attribute that serves her well in competition,
At the time of our interview with Carlee, she was awaiting word if she had made the Midwest Region team for USA Elite. She had traveled to McKinney, TX on February 7 of this year to participate in a USA Elite Select Tryout for the Midwest Regional Team. They evaluated softball players on their footwork, their hitting, their speed, their aim, their target and their accuracy. Jenny Gladding, Coach of the USSSA Pride, was on hand to offer advice and encouragement to all of the athletes. Carlee had the top speed of all athletes from home to home in her age division. Out of 125 participants, she garnered Top Performer accolades at that tryout, and was anxiously awaiting for the live announcement of the team to be made on 26 May 2015. Not all Top Performers are picked for the Regional Team, but much to her delight, her name was called on that night along with 14 other girls to play in the 2015 All American Games in Kissimmee, Florida and represent the Midwest Regional Team. The All American Games will be held the 13th through the 16th of July. The Team will compete against seven other Regional Teams for the All American Title.

Although this will be an honor to play for the team and for the prestige associated with it, it will not be Carlee’s first trip to Florida. In 2014, she went with the Louisiana Rippers to play in the United States Fastpitch Association (USFA) World Series in Panama City Beach, and they came away as undefeated Class A National Champions. During the Tournament the Rippers scored 47 runs and only allowed 8 to cross home plate. She is no stranger to winning no matter how much the competition improves from year to year.

She is utilized at Shortstop, at third base and at catcher, because her softball IQ is just off the charts for such a young woman. Experienced coaches, interested parents and a hunger for the game have inspired her to learn and to absorb all of the knowledge that she can about the game. Yet her abilities do not stop once she crosses the foul line, because her participation in all sports earn her recognition as well. As a seventh grader at New Boston Middle School, she participated on the Volleyball Team, the Basketball Team and the Track Team. She was the All Around Setter and Front Row Hitter for Volleyball, and ran the 100 Meter Hurdles, the 4 x 100 Relay Team and the 4 x 200 Relay Team in Track. As if this was not enough, she is also a Cheerleader.

We wish Carlee the best as she continues her softball career and looks to succeed at every level. With the anticipation of a four year old at Christmas, I look forward to turning on the television in six years watching one of our own participate in the Women’s College World Series. The abilities are evident, and with coaches like Mr. Catron and Mr. Stringer pushing her to excel, she could really be a special talent in the years to come,

Carlee is the daughter of John and Kelly Ratcliff from New Boston, TX and she has a sister, Hannah. Her grandparents are Larry and Connie Ratcliff from New Boston, TX and Bobby and Melissa Morphis from Marion, AR. She and her family attend Rock Creek Baptist Church in New Boston, TX.

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