Lily Castle isn’t afraid to be different. The Newman Catholic junior is noticeable right away to those who watch the Knight’s softball team. She is the only infielder that shuns wearing a mask while on the field, and as a left-handed shortstop, is a rare sight on the diamond.
Left-handed players in baseball and softball are usually stuck either in the outfield or at first base, because their dominant hand makes it more difficult for them to play infield positions.
When Castle fields a ground ball, she has to make a full-body pivot in order to throw to first base, a move that she has mastered through countless hours of practice.
Though she has been doing it for several years now, she is constantly the object of curiosity for those who haven’t seen her play before.
“It’s very different,” Castle said. “I have to shift to a different spot than every other shortstop does. A lot of umpires are like, ‘Wow, a left-handed shortstop. One of a kind, I guess. But I’ve learned to adapt to it.”
Even with practicing and taking hundreds of ground balls, Castle still has to position herself differently than a typical shortstop would, just to make the routine plays.
“I usually play closer to second base, so my backhand is easier to get to. Obviously, I’ve had to work on my pivot a lot, because getting to first base isn’t easy.”
Castle also bats lead-off for the Knights, and has an impressive amount of power for a shortstop. Last season, Castle set the school single-season record with eight home runs, and has been one of the schools’ most consistent hitters over the past three season. Her eighth grade year, Castle hit .440, then .388 her freshman year, and .434 as a sophomore.
She has started more slowly this season, hitting .276, but coach Tom Dunn still sees her as a cornerstone for his team.
“She hasn’t hit the ball as well this year as she has in the past. She’s still hitting around .300 with a bunch of doubles. For most people, they’d say ‘Hey, that’s a great year.” But we’re used to .400 from Lily. But defensively, she’s definitely an All-Stater.”
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Dunn described a basket catch that Castle made this year against Central Springs, saying that he didn’t know of many other high school players who would be able to make that catch. Since Castle joined the team as an eighth grader, he has seen her develop into an All-State player.
“We didn’t have to teach her anything,” Dunn said. “She has a nose for the ball. Granted, we’ve hit her hundreds of balls, but she just has such quick feet, and she has a great mentality. She’s always in the right spot, and she thinks ahead.”
Originally, Dunn and the rest of the coaching staff wanted to use Castle’s left-handed talents in much different way. They put her in the outfield at first, and according to Castle, the coach wanted her to be a bunter and a slap hitter.
“Once he realized that I like to hit it far, he just said ‘Be very aggressive at the plate,’” Castle said. “Let those people know that you’re not a slapper.”
Castle showed off her aggressive style of play on Friday night against Nashua-Plainfield. Leading off in the bottom of the first inning, Castle hit a line drive that hit the right field fence. She had an easy double, but was thrown out trying to stretch the play into a triple.
Though it backfired that time, it was emblematic of the way she plays ball, both through choice, and by necessity.
“(Coach Dunn) taught me to always be aggressive, always charge the ball,” Castle said. “Especially since I’m left-handed, you can’t wait on the ball. You have to charge it to beat that runner.”
Castle was named a 1A First Team All-State player in 2018. Teams know not to pitch her inside, lest she get the barrel around and send a ball over the fence. As a left-handed, power-hitting lead-off hitter, Castle isn’t afraid to do things a bit differently than most people.
“I’ll stick out if I have to,” Castle said. “It doesn’t bother me at all.”