Daily photos by Jonathan Palmer|
Decatur High sophomore and catcher Whitney Fletcher is all business when she’s at the plate. Her coach and teammates say she keeps them relaxed with her humorous stunts. A leadoff batter, Fletcher is hitting .372 this year and has scored 39 runs for the Lady Red Raiders.
Faces of Fletcher
Decatur sophomore can make teammates laugh, opponents cry
By Brooke Milam
It’s not Halloween, but on a rainy Friday the 13th afternoon, Decatur’s Whitney Fletcher shows up to softball practice with a cow hat ornamenting her head. It’s not uncommon for Fletcher to break the seriousness of practice with a stunt like that.
But spend just a few minutes with the sophomore catcher/lead-off batter and you’ll see another side.
As she takes batting practice with her teammates giggling, Fletcher has a straight face and critiques her own swing with Decatur coach Ashley Mueller looking on.
“She’s goofy, but she can focus when it’s time,” Mueller said.
“Especially students her age have a hard time going from one to another, and she’s able to do that literally in a matter of seconds.”
Both aspects of Fletcher have helped the Lady Red Raiders this season. Mueller said Fletcher’s light heartedness keeps her team loose, but when it’s game time, her competitive nature is what drives the Lady Red Raiders.
“She gets on base usually in the first inning. We score,” Mueller said. “I normally lose every toss in every tournament, meaning we bat first, so she starts us off.”
Fletcher is the comic relief for the Lady Red Raiders, but with a bat in her hands or the her catcher’s mask pulled down, it’s all business.
Fletcher is batting .372 this season with a slugging percentage of .579. She’s scored 39 runs for Decatur,
driven in 24 more, and her 45 hits this season include seven triples, three doubles and four home runs. She’s struck out only four times in 121 at- bats and is near perfect at catcher.
She’s fielding at a slick .996 percentage.
Decatur is ranked fifth in Class 5A with a 29-14 overall record. The Lady Red Raiders are leading 5A, Area 16 with a 4-1 area record and can seal the area title with a win, hosting Russellville on Tuesday at 6 p.m.
You can bet that Fletcher and her teammates will be ready.
“Once I get in the game, it’s all mental focus,” Fletcher said.
And it’s that side that opponents have come to know.
Hartselle coach Shane Alexander said he respects the entire Lady Red Raiders lineup, but while naming several players after a recent game at Decatur, Alexander said it’s Fletcher he fears most.
“That catcher, she scares me to death,” Alexander said.
Fletcher has put the same concern in other opponents all year long.
“Obviously, she’s goofy, and she likes to have a good time,” Mueller said.
“And she’s always smiling when she’s at bat — except for when she’s really mad.”
Decatur High third baseman Jennifer Lawrence, left, and Whitney Fletcher share a laugh during a recent practice.
Fletcher’s teammates know that side, too.
“She’s a motivator,” junior teammate Jelisa Thompson said.
Sophomore pitcher Mollie Russell said there’s never a dull moment working with Fletcher, but it’s not all jokes all the time.
“There’s a serious side, too,” Russell said.
Teammates crack a smile at just the mention of Fletcher’s name.
“She’s funny, really goofy,” Thompson said.
“I always know when Whitney’s around. You can hear her all the way down the hall at school.”
Fletcher nodded, agreeing with the description. But with the cow hat on her head she spoke about another side that comes out on the softball field.
“Oh yeah, I hate losing,” Fletcher said.
Thompson, a junior second baseman, was a little more descriptive about Fletcher’s thoughts on losing: “She despises losing.”
Added Russell: “Dislikes with a passion.”
Fletcher, who also plays volleyball and basketball for Decatur, developed her competitive side and made a name for herself before high school as a national NFL Pepsi Punt, Pass and Kick champion. The program is designed as a national skills competition and Fletcher said she participated from age 8 until she was 15 years old.
No stranger to attention, Fletcher has performed in front of thousands in NFL stadiums in California, Pennsylvania and Tennessee and said she’s got more trophies from those contests than she can count.
But she claims she still gets nervous during softball games: “when I lead off the game or when the bases are loaded,” she said.
You’d never know it. Mueller said she can count on Fletcher for whatever her team needs offensively.
“She can bunt, slap and hit a home run,” Mueller said.
“She’s hard to play defensively.”
And even when she’s keeping the Lady Red Raiders laughing, Mueller said, Fletcher pushes herself more than anyone.
“I look to see her peak as far as batting goes,” Mueller said.
“Whatever weaknesses she might have, she’s working hard on them trying to get better. Hopefully she won’t have a weakness at all soon.”
Save $84.50 a year off our newsstand price:
Subscribe today for only 38 cents a day!