Recent Indian River High School graduates Callie McDowell and Ky’Lesha Neal may not have ended their softball careers the way they might have wanted, after the Indians fell just short of a playoff bid this season. But the senior standouts would still get a chance to play one last game, with both of them being selected to represent the Indians at the 2016 Blue Gold All-Star game in Dover on Thursday, June 16.
“It was cool to play with Ky in the outfield one last time, because I’ve been playing with her since we were 9 or 10,” said McDowell — who, along with Neal, had previously never missed a DIAA tournament, going back to their freshman seasons.
An All-Conference selection, McDowell got the Blue-Gold nod after posting some impressive numbers in 2016 — batting .377 with 20 hits, three doubles and 15 RBIs.
She was also the Indians’ go-to player in the clutch, leading the team in batting average with runners in scoring position (0.625).
Defensively, she found similar success in left field, finishing with a perfect fielding percentage (.1000) and notching seven put-outs on seven chances, with zero errors.
“With her stats alone, it would have been crazy, in my opinion, not to take a player like her,” said head coach Erika Brittingham. “She just did an overall great job for our team, and I think her stats really showed that.”
On the outfield’s opposite side was Neal, who also maintained a .1000 fielding percentage and racked up 17 puts-outs on 20 total chances and added three assists while committing no errors.
At the plate, Neal was third on the team in two-out RBIs, with five, and led in both sac bunts, with three, and hit by the pitch, also with three.
“[Players with] her leadership skills are few and far between,” said Brittingham of her graduated right-fielder. “She’s very vocal, she’s honest, she tells it like it is, and I like that about a player. Her defensive stats kind of spoke for themselves, too.”
Playing for the Blue team, both players managed hits in the game. McDowell’s came along in the fourth inning, against Sussex Tech pitcher Sarah James — a longtime friend and rival.
Watching the first pitch from James fall outside the strike zone, McDowell fouled off the second pitch, then missed on a swing on the third pitch before another ball from James brought the count to 2-2.
She’d get on base on the next pitch, anticipating what the familiar pitcher would throw her way and sending a shot right over short for a single.
“Sarah is a very good pitcher,” said McDowell. “We just know each other so well — I knew exactly what she was going to throw me.”
Interestingly enough, Neal’s hit also came against a longtime friend, getting her single off of Cape Henlopen pitcher Riley Shields.
The game would go down to the wire, with the Blue team scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth to make it a one-run game. However, after a Shields strikeout, and with two outs and the bases loaded, Kendra Ziemba of Hodgson snagged a line drive headed for short to give Gold a 6-5 win.
However, for McDowell — whose father, Matt McDowell, cracked the lineup in the first-ever Blue-Gold game for baseball, playing for William Penn — just getting to the game was reward in itself.
“It was definitely fun,” she said. “When we didn’t make the playoffs, I thought I would never get to play again. So I was excited to play one more time.”
Brittingham said that McDowell and Neal — who made up two thirds of the Indians’ outfield this season — will be missed as they hang up their cleats and head off to college.
“They’re a special group for me. This is the first group that I really saw grow from being freshman to seniors — grow not only as players but, more importantly, as an individuals,” Brittingham said, also including former catcher Eliza Bomhardt, who had to sit out her senior year due to injury as she preps for an NCAA softball career at Division I Hartford University.
“To know that they’re all going off to college — some to play some to not — that’s kind of what I do it for. The winning is great, but to see a player grow athletically and also as a person — that’s what important to me.”