March 11, 2014 10:28:36 AM
CARROLLTON, Ala. -- Josh Caudle couldn't have asked for a better battery than Kacy Noland and Lizzie Shirley.
The Pickens Academy fast-pitch softball pitcher and catcher even came with their own nicknames -- the "silent killer" and the "singing sophomore" -- to help Caudle make a smooth transition in his first year as the school's coach.
Noland and Shirley played key roles two weekends ago in helping Pickens Academy win the Bessemer Academy tournament. This past weekend, Pickens Academy (10-3) went 2-1 and finished third at the Patrician Academy tournament.
For their accomplishments, Noland and Shirley are The Dispatch's co-Prep Players of the Week.
Caudle said the Lady Pirates weren't sure if they would have Noland, a freshman, this season after she suffered a knee injury during basketball season. He said Noland's absence dropped the team's spirits, but he said things picked up when Noland returned and provided a needed boost in confidence. With Noland and sixth-grader Shelby Lowe in the circle and Shirley behind the plate, Caudle said Pickens Academy believes the team can compete with anyone.
At the Bessemer Academy tournament, Pickens Academy beat Southern Academy 15-0, lost to Coosa Valley 2-1 and beat Coosa Valley 3-1 for the title. Lowe won both games, pitching nine innings and giving up only one run. She struck out 14 and surrendered six hits. Noland took the loss, going six innings and giving up five hits and striking out nine.
Shirley was 5-for-8 with two RBIs, Lauren Duckworth was 7-for-9 with two RBIs, and Noland was 7-for-10 with four RBIs.
Also last week, Pickens Academy defeated Patrician Academy 8-3. Noland pitched a complete game and allowed two earned runs and struck out nine. Shirley was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Duckworth was 2-for-3 with an RBI, and Lowe was 2-for-4 with three RBIs.
This past weekend, Pickens Academy beat Sumter Academy and Patrician Academy and lost to Clarke Prep.
Caudle said Noland, who is the quieter one, and Shirley, who is apt to lead the cheering and singing in the dugout, complement each other.
"Kacy is a silent killer," Caudle said. "She goes up and strikes people out. She is silent, but she is deadly. People know what is going on in her head by her facial expressions. She doesn't have to say anything.
"Lizzie is the one in the dugout singing, slapping people when they come back in, and giving them high-fives. She is constantly smiling and keeping people up. It doesn't matter if we are down 100-0. She is going to be smiling and trying to keep everybody in the game saying, 'We can still win it.' It really is a one-two punch. You have the silent but deadly, but you also have the one you always know is going to be there and always is going to be talking. She definitely is a joy to have in the dugout because it is nice to have somebody who keeps everybody's heads up."
Caudle said he heard talk that this was supposed to be a "rebuilding year." The fast start and the one-two punch of Noland and Shirley or Lowe and Shirley has given the team the confidence that it can compete for a state title even though it has only four players who are sophomores or older on a 21-player roster.
"They have potential to be an extremely good ballteam," Caudle said. "They are young, so it might not be this year, but within the next two years these girls are going to be something to watch. But right now they are something to watch. They are all friends. There isn't a fight or an argument between the players. I have preached real hard that I am not the only one that can coach. These other girls can do that, too. I have preached that if somebody else tells you did something wrong, they are not being mean. They are trying to help you and help the team. We have done real well with that and have worked as a team and are picking each other up."
Noland has been playing softball since the sixth grade. She plays shortstop when she isn't pitching. She feels the team is off to a solid start because everyone is working so well together. She praised the efforts of Shirley for helping her work through times in the circle when she gets mad and could lose her composure.
"We can accomplish anything if we set our mind to it and play as a team," Noland said.
As one of those grizzled veterans, Shirley welcomes the responsibility of handling the pitching staff and working with a silent killer. Shirley said Noland has more movement on her pitches, while Lowe has a little more speed. She cocks her head to the side and assumes a stoic countenance to illustrate how Noland looks when she gets aggravated. She said she doesn't have to say anything to Noland to get her to snap out of it and relax. She says she tries to keep it fun and make Noland laugh.
"I feel I have more pressure this year because we lost a bunch of people," said Shirley, a sophomore, who also plays third base. "I just try to keep everybody going and try to get everybody a chance to do their thing."
n On Monday, Pickens Academy beat Sumter Academy 19-1. Lowe allowed three hits in four innings to get the victory. She struck out seven. Shirley was 4-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs, Anna Cockrell had a home run, three RBIs, and two walks, and Noland was 2-for-3 with three runs and three RBIs.
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.