In softball, a pitcher can only be as good as her catcher will let her be.
Thank goodness that Izard County fireballer Sarah Taylor has had Trace Grinnell behind the plate for the past three years.
While it can't be an easy task to catch the heat that Taylor delivers on a pitch-by-pitch basis, Grinnell has managed to rise to the challenge, keeping everything in front of her as Taylor racked up strikeout after strikeout.
But what else would you expect from a catcher dubbed "The Wall?"
After working behind the plate as starting backstop for the Izard County Lady Cougars the past four seasons, Grinnell's softball career will extend into the future, starting next season at Hendrix College in Conway.
Grinnell inked a letter of intent to play for the Lady Warriors right after the Izard County athletic awards program May 23. The last two seasons at Izard County have been big ones for Grinnell and the Lady Cougars, as they advanced to the Elite Eight of the Class 1A State Tournament this year after reaching the Final Four a year ago.
According to Lady Cougar Head Coach Matt Orff, much of that success starts behind home plate.
"It means a lot to have somebody that you can put behind the plate, that without a doubt, can catch any ball thrown," he said. "Rise ball, fast ball curve ball, drop ball, changeup -- we don't have to worry about passed balls and wild pitches, because she stops them all. She's got a nickname, "The Wall," because nothing gets by her. And not only that, she's got a strong arm for throwing down to second and picking off girls behind first base. A lot of the teams we played didn't have a great running game because of the threat of her behind the plate."
While Grinnell's Gold Glove winning play behind the plate is nothing new to Izard County fans, fans all across the state will now have a chance to see the Lady Warrior in action in the upcoming Arkansas Coaches Association High School All-Star game in Fayetteville. Grinnell will suit for the East team, coached by Mountain Home Head Coach Dell Leonard.
Grinnell also earned All-State Tournament team honors the past two years, along with spots on the All-State, All-Conference and All-Regional squads.
Hitting .429 with 48 hits, 15 for extra bases, Grinnell won the batting title again this season for Izard County, her third straight year to capture that honor.
"She's just an awesome offensive player. She has no problems finding the ball, and when she hits it, she hits it hard; a lot of line drives," said Orff.
Grinnell also helped the Lady Cougars' basketball team reach the state tournament this season, netting All-Regional honors along the way.
But just as important as her work behind the plate has been for Izard County these past four seasons, Grinnell's presence in the dugout has weighed heavily on the way the Lady Cougars conduct business on and off the diamond.
"She's one of those that's real fiery. If someone's letting down or not doing what they're supposed to, she'll jump on them," Orff said. "We started working out for the season back in January and some girls came out that we thought might want to play this year. She (Grinnell) told them up front that if they weren't dedicated enough to practice every day we practice, don't come out. She's got that leadership ability that she can take a team by the hand and show them what they need to be doing."
Those skills should help make Grinnell's transition to the collegiate level a smooth one.
"She'll do well. We've known coach (Amy) Weaver at Hendrix for a long time, and she's worked with Trace some. She (Weaver) had a graduating senior catcher and she knew that Traci had the skills to go play for her, so she called Traci way back in the fall and wanted her to come play for her next year," Orff said. "And then as soon as spring rolled around, she called again and offered the opportunity for Trace to go play for her for sure next year."
As impressive as her resume on the diamond may be, Grinnell's 4.0 GPA in the classroom certainly helped pave the way to Hendrix College, as the school does not offer athletic scholarships to its student-athletes.