The summer is Chloe Tapley”s time.
Ever since she can remember, the time after one school year and the period before the beginning of another season has been one to relax, to recharge, and to improve.
As much as the Hebron Christian fast-pitch softball pitcher enjoys hanging out with her friends, she has found the summer months even more fun because it allows her to hone her skills in the circle.
Most times, those challenges have come against older players, including some who have taken their talents to the next level.
Tapley isn”t sure she will take that step and play softball in college, but her start to the 2011 season indicates she is on the right track.
The Hebron Christian junior pitched her team to three victories in four games this past weekend at the Magnolia Heights tournament. Tapley struck out 38 in the event, including 16 against Lee Academy (Ark.) in an eight-inning contest in the finale.
For her accomplishments, Tapley is The Dispatch”s Prep Player of the Week.
“I think I pitched pretty good, but I need to work on my hitting a little bit,” said Tapley, who hits in the No. 3 spot in the order.”
Tapley admitted to being surprised the Lady Eagles did as well as they did in their first action of the season after losing seven seniors to graduation, including her sister, Magen. But buoyed by the return of teammates Alaina Hill, her catcher, Tori Nichols, and Beverly Blake, Hebron Christian has a core intact to make another run at a district title, a Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class A North State title, and a second consecutive trip to the state tournament.
Hebron Christian coach Cass Tapley, Chloe”s father, was equally pleased with his team”s performance. He said he was cautiously optimistic about his team”s fortunes entering the weekend against schools from larger classifications. He also was pleased Chloe showed signs of being a more mature pitcher and worked through some mistakes to keep the Lady Eagles in every game.
“It was 100 degrees, which probably makes it a little frustrating, but she probably did better than I anticipated knowing her,” coach Tapley said. “(Not showing her frustration) is one of the things we worked on and not showing it to the umpires or anybody else. She did mature with that over the summer.”
Tapley and Hill were members of the Houston All-Stars Under-16 travel fast-pitch softball team that won the Dizzy Dean World Series last month in Southaven. The team swept its games at the event, including matchups against U-18 teams.
Tapley said the Dizzy Dean tournament was the latest in a long line of summer events that has kept Chloe occupied in the summer. He said he has never pushed Magen or Chloe to be as involved in summer softball as they have been. Still, he said Chloe always has enjoyed the chance to compete in the circle at a time when other players are kicking back on the couch.
“She has just played a lot of ball,” Tapley said. “They knew if they were going to be any good they had to play in the summer.”
Tapley said Chloe has routinely played more than 100 games in some summers since she started playing softball in the summer in sixth grade. While Magen is more “laid back,” Tapley said Chloe is more like his wife, Mary Claire, and is focused on the doing what it takes to get to the destination. He said he “enjoys the ride” in getting to that destination.
The result for Chloe has been a maturation that has helped transform her into one of the state”s top pitchers.
“I can remember a time when she was 9 or 10 years old and I didn”t know any better,” Tapley said. “If she didn”t have a great game in the field, she would want me to hit balls to her for an hour or an hour and a half. She always has been driven to be successful. Her grades are like that, too. Her work ethic is probably her biggest asset.”
Tapley has used the dog days of the year to fine-tune that attitude. In the process, she said she has gained confidence in her ability to earn a chance to play softball in college from a small, private school. She admits she doesn”t have a problem with a summer schedule packed with softball because she has been doing it for so long she is used to it.
“(Playing in the summer) helps me a lot because I can see how I can do against people that old,” Tapley said about many of the college-age players she faces. “I think it has helped me attract attention from college coaches, but I won”t know if I am going to try to play softball in college until the end of my senior year.”
College coaches may work to change Tapley”s thinking. After all, she has this season and her senior year to add to an arsenal that already includes a fastball, dropball, screwball, and changeup. Tapley said might try to work in a curveball this season, but she is focused on becoming even more stoic in the circle to prevent anyone from ruining her rhythm when she is doing her job.
“I think I am better (controlling her frustration) than I was a year ago, but I still need to work on it a lot,” Tapley said.
Cass Tapley said another summer filled with games has prepared Chloe for the rigors of a high school season. He feels confident that work will allow Chloe to become even more poised and able to shake off mistakes that are bound to happen.
“She gets frustrated with herself as much as anybody, but she does not really let it show,” Tapley said. “Once she is on the rubber, she just doesn”t get too rattled. Mentally nothing ever bothers her out there. This summer, we had coaches who were really trying to get into her head. All it does is it ticks her off and gets her more focused.”
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.