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Despite slump, Wright leads Tigers

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University junior catcher Callie Wright, a second-team all-MIAA selection last season with a .258 average, has seen her average drop to .068 this year. Wright is 3 of 44 at the plate in 22 starts.

However, Wright is still one of the team's leaders, the starting catcher, very sound in the field -- and possibly exemplifies second-year coach Erin Kinberger's ideals of heart, toughness and passion more than any other Tiger. Kinberger labels Wright the team's "quarterback" and one of the reasons why FHSU is 23-5 and ranked No. 17 in the NCAA Division II poll.

"She is one of my really good friends off the field and the pitcher/catcher relationship we have on the field is just incredible," senior ace pitcher Maddie Holub said. "We know what each other is thinking at all times. She is just smart. She listens to Coach K. She knows the game. ... She is very, very mature behind the plate."

Last year, Wright moved from the outfield to catching full time despite never catching an FHSU game before the 2012 season. Wright also was the team's lone catcher and caught all 50 contests in a 31-19 year where the Tigers had just 13 players. This season, most of the core from that team is back and FHSU has added 11 new players.

"This year, we were really ready to make a name for ourselves," Wright said. "I think a lot of times we were overlooked and not as respected as we feel like we deserve, so this year, we have had a common goal together that these are people, and we have got our team. We are going to go forward and work our butts off to get there."

FHSU is tied with University of Central Oklahoma for the MIAA lead with a 5-1 record. The home doubleheader against UCO was postponed because of weather last weekend. This weekend, the Tigers will travel to Truman State (Mo.) University and Lindenwood (Mo.) University. The doubleheaders start at 1 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday.

"It took a little while, but when everyone grasped the concept of the heart and the family mentality that we have, you are either in or you are out and that's how coach wants everyone to know," Wright said. "If you are with Fort Hays softball, you are in. If you are not, then you are out, so it happened pretty quickly after everyone got that concept through their mind. We are able to join together and now we are one big family."

This season, Wright has caught 21 games in split time with Amy Dunn, who has six starts behind the plate and two at designated hitter. Dunn carries a .250 average with a homer in 28 at-bats. Even in the midst of her slump, Wright has taken extra swings in the cage, worked on improving her in the field and been an active and vocal leader very similar to her coach.

"It's an athlete's desire and love for the game and her team, it becomes a hurdle, it gets in the way, and we are just working right now on suppressing the emotion and the frustration and just getting back to the basics of the fundamentals," Kinberger said.

Last week, Wright played in the field, but Dunn batted for her. Still, Wright managed the pitching staff and has played the season without an error. The Tigers' team earned run average is 1.66 and FHSU currently stands 17th in the latest release of NCAA statistics.

"Our passion on the field is 100 percent every single day," Wright said. "If you believe in the team and the unit that we have, there is no one that can stop you. It's something that if you come with your heart and your mentality every single day, then you are invincible and that is what Coach K has made us believe."