Highlighted by a run to the TSSAA state championship game in 2018, the Walker Valley softball team’s four seniors, who were dubbed “The Fantastic Four” as freshmen, have helped turn the Lady Mustangs into a perennial contender.
During their four seasons on the field together, Carissa Frost, Laney Harris, Katelyn Howell, and Natalie Pruitt have led the Feisty Fillies to a record of 92-36-1.
In 2018, as sophomores, they were the state runner-up, losing to Powell 2-1 in the title game in the program’s first state tournament berth since 2005. They were also sectional champs, region runner-up, District 5-AAA runner-up, and won the Eastman Tournament earlier in the season.
As juniors, they were the district champs for the first time in 10 years before falling to Warren County in the region semifinals. They also were the Gulf Coast Classic runner-up.
“Ever since this group has come onto the scene as freshmen, they’ve just shown a will to win,” said head coach Lauren Limburg, who has coached all four girls since they were in the sixth grade at Ocoee Middle School.
“It has been an honor to watch them grow as players, as young ladies, and as leaders. I’m just as proud of the character they show off the field as I am for the players they are on the field. They have truly left a legacy. I know they are all meant for something great.
“We talk about our team being a family, and they have been leaders with the way that they’ve loved on their teammates," she continued.
"They’ve lived up to being team captains; it’s hard to have an entire class that is such hard workers, and I can’t think of another class that has worked any harder.
"They’ve been great examples to the other girls, that if you want to play at this level, then this is what you are going to need to do outside of practice to develop into that type of player,” assessed Limburg.
The Lady Mustangs opened their season by winning the Pleasure Island Showdown in Gulf Shores, Alabama, before returning home to find out the season had been put on hold.
After losing a game early in pool play to Baker High School (Mobile, Ala.), they eventually got revenge over the Lady Hornets in the championship game 5-2.
The Lady Mustangs went 6-1 in the tournament and outscored their opponents 58-8 to win in dominant fashion.
All four seniors will continue their softball careers at the college level — Frost and Harris will join forces at Lee University, while Howell and Pruitt will play together at Chattanooga State.
Tremendous speed and instincts both on the base path and in the outfield, Frost has wreaked havoc as a baserunner and defensively throughout her career.
She was named to the All-State team in 2018 as a sophomore, as well as Chattanooga area Best of Preps.
Batting leadoff, she has 58 career stolen bases, and got off to a tremendous start — 8-for-17 (.471) with a double, two RBIs, nine runs scored and eight stolen bases — in the Treasure Island championship run, before the season was brought to a screeching halt.
“She’s not only been a four-year starter, but has batted lead-off all four years, really setting the tone for our team,” Limburg said.
“She has a great eye at the plate, and her speed and instincts on the bases are something you just can’t teach. She’s a force to be reckoned with on the bases.
"In the outfield, she just glides and it looks so natural. She’s made some great catches and is really willing to give her body for the team. She’s also very humble and selfless, just a great teammate,” the coach assessed.
Frost also received national attention when she was the ESPN SportsCenter top play on May 25, 2018, for a remarkable home run-robbing catch in the state championship game. She caught the ball as she leapt over the outfield fence, landing on the other side.
Career statistics: .401 batting average, five home runs, 140 runs scored, 63 RBIs, and 58 stolen bases.
A complete player, Harris hits for both power and average while showing outstanding range from the shortstop position.
A three-sport star — she also excels as an All-District performer in both volleyball and basketball — Harris was named to the All-State team in 2019, as well as Best of Preps in both 2018 and 2019.
Harris went 5-of-16 with a grand slam home run for four RBIs, and had two stolen bases to open the season in the Gulf Shores tournament.
“Laney plays so smooth at shortstop; we are just amazed every day at the plays she’s able to make. She makes the plays she’s supposed to make, but also the plays that make us say wow,” said Limburg.
“At the plate, she does it all. She bats for average, power, has speed; not only has she driven in a lot of runs, but she’s scored just as many. She has all the tools that make a great hitter.”
Career statistics: .422 batting average, .661 slugging percentage, 16 home runs, 131 runs scored, and 131 RBIs.
Hitting for power in the middle of the Lady Mustangs’ line-up, Howell also shows range in the outfield, as well as a strong throwing arm.
Batting clean-up this season, Howell got off to a terrific start, going 7-for-16 with two doubles, five RBIs, 11 runs scored, and two stolen bases.
“Katelyn has so much power at the plate, and tremendous range in the outfield with a very accurate arm,” Limburg said.
“It has been fun to watch her grow and improve over the past four years and really hold down that center field spot.
"I’ve really been impressed with how much she has stepped up this season as a teammate and leader as well, and hearing how much the rest of the girls admire her and her work ethic," she added.
"Katelyn and Carissa have played together for seven years now, and they work so seamlessly beside each other. It’s really neat to watch them play together. If a ball is hit out there in the air, I feel completely confident that one of them is going to get to it and make the play.”
Career statistics: .339 batting average, eight home runs, 87 runs scored, and 78 RBIs.
The left-handed hurler leads the Lady Mustangs in the circle, and her composure and control have been the primary reason for her remarkable pitching success.
The southpaw pitched every game in the postseason the past two years, and had an exceptional start to this season. She went 5-1 in the season-opening tournament, giving up just four earned runs with 21 strikeouts in 22 innings pitched.
“The thing that stands out the most about Natalie is her presence and composure on the mound,” said Limburg.
“By her facial expressions and body language, you can’t tell if a girl just hit a home run off her or struck out. The other girls on the field truly look to her because she never gets rattled.
"She has tremendous movement and speed on her pitches, and is such a hard worker," the veteran coach stated. "She also has such a kind and loving spirit; her teammates just think the world of her.”
Career statistics: 61-22 record, 2.27 ERA, and 329 strikeouts (to just 52 walks in 472.1 innings pitched).
— Banner Assistant Sports Editor Joe Cannon contributed to this story.