The ace of the Titans

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 23, 2023

By Jay Spivey
For the Clemmons Courier

Senior Cate Etchason of West Forsyth has quite literally gone from, what she calls, not a very good athlete, to one of the best, if not the best softball pitcher in the Central Piedmont 4-A conference.
And that’s not to say being a softball pitcher means you’re a bad athlete. It’s the polar opposite. Her response was from her thinking that she was bad at another sport.
“It was because I was so bad at soccer,” she said. “I think with soccer, it was so much running. And I would get tired, and softball, it just came so naturally to me. I don’t know why.
“I think it was more because of the hand-eye coordination.”
Then, she went from soccer to softball.
“I think it was third grade,” she said. “My dad (Cliff Etchason) got me a glove for Christmas, and I started at Southwest Little League for their spring season.”
Cate Etchason fell in love with softball after seeing her neighbor play.
“My neighbor, her name is Anna Marino, she used to play at West (Forsyth) too (graduated in 2014, because she used to pitch,” Etchason said. “And I used to see her and her dad practicing outside every day, pitching or hitting.
“So, I said, ‘I want to do that,’ and I guess that’s when my dad got my glove for Christmas.”
Etchason said she started pitching in her side yard, then started working with Coach Johnny Miller until he retired. After that, she started working with Billy “Chief” Gerald, a famed pitching coach who used to coach with Coach Mike Lambros at North Davidson, in sixth or seventh grade.
Etchason first started playing softball when she was about 9 or 10 years old and she played played second base. She eventually transitioned to pitcher.
“I remember there was this one coach, Greg Russell, who was my first-ever all-stars coach. And I was on his team since I started playing,” she said. “There was this one year where they were doing this (Southwest) Little League draft , and this other coach drafted me first before Greg, and I was like, ‘Why did he do that?’
Cliff Etchason asked why his daughter wasn’t on Russell’s team.
“My dad asked Greg, ‘Yo, Greg, why is Cate not on your team,’” Cate Etchason said. “And he told my dad, ‘He drafted her first overall over everyone.’
“I was in fourth grade?’ And that was like, maybe I am good.”
Etchason went to West Forsyth and played on the JV team as a freshman. She eventually moved up to varsity her sophomore year, but rarely played.
“I knew she had the potential,” Coach Kevin Baity said. “The consistency was what her issue was her sophomore year. Now, last year she was pretty much spot-on. If I did a most improved there’s no question she would’ve been the most improved from her sophomore to her junior year.”
As a junior, Etchason pitched in almost every game last season, helping the Titans to an overall record of 19-5 and 9-5 in the Central Piedmont 4-A.
“It was definitely a transition for sure…” she said. “…It never really hit me that I was the only pitcher coming up until my junior year, so I was like, ‘This is it.’”
However, before this season she predominantly worked with catchers Emily Mutter and Caroline Johnson, who graduated last year. Johnson missed last season with an injury, and Mutter was Etchason’s battery mate.
“(Mutter) helped me so much,” Etchason said. “She’s just got such a great attitude. She always knows what to say. And was so good about blocking and framing pitches, it would just make me feel so much better about myself.”
Not only did Etchason have Mutter behind the plate as a security blanket, Mutter helped her with what Etchason calls her best pitch — the changeup.
“When she can locate her fastball and her changeup, which is on most of the time, she’s hard to hit,” Baity said. “Last year, she had an unbelievable season. I mean she went from two years ago, an ERA (earned-run average) of 7-point something to last year, it was, 1.4(0).
“So, that’s what I’m expecting eventually this year.”
This season, Etchason will have to rely on two new catchers — Taylor Alderman and Lilly Murphy.
“I call all the pitches,” Baity said. “To me, that’s just sort of a game I enjoy working with the pitcher and the catcher, and the strategies during the game. I let them have a lot of the decision-making during the game. I tell them to talk to me after every half-inning to tell me what’s working, what’s not working, what they feel comfortable with, my pitch-calling, is there something I need to call more? That’s just something I enjoy doing.”
Baity said that Etchason will likely pitch most of the games this season. However, two freshman pitchers — Sophia Murphy, the sister of Lilly, and Meredith Casey, the daughter of assistant athletics director Shannon Casey — are also available.
Etchason pitched last weekend in scrimmages at West Forsyth against Forbush, Hillsborough Orange and Central Davidson. She struggled early, but pitched much better as the day went on, according to Baity.
“I think the first inning against Forbush, it was so awful,” she said. “I think it was just nerves for everyone though because that was my first game playing in a while. That was everyone’s first time mingling together as a team during the game.”
West Forsyth is scheduled to open the season on Tuesday at North Surry.
“She can be a dominant pitcher,” Baity said. “And when she’s on it just seems like the defense works better behind her.”