CHARLESTON, W.Va. — When Sissonville lost standout Karli Pinkerton to a serious ankle injury earlier in the season, panic briefly set in for the Indians softball team.
For a team with high aspirations after being one game away from the state tournament last season, the Indians had just lost their starting shortstop and leadoff hitter in Pinkerton.
Despite the injury — 21 games later — Sissonville finds itself are two wins away from a berth in the state tournament.
The Indians (20-8), ranked fourth in the final Daily Mail prep softball poll, hope to take the next step when they host No. 1 Herbert Hoover in a Region 4 semifinal at 6 p.m. on Thursday.
In Pinkerton’s absence, Sissonville coach Niki Gross turned to Brooke Young to fill the void, and the freshman has carried her weight in helping the Indians continue their promising season.
Young has started at shortstop every game since Pinkerton’s injury on April 2 in a 16-0 win over Clay County in the seventh game, and is hitting close to .300 at the plate as well.
“I am really impressed with how Brooke has stepped up, especially to be a freshman, and to be thrown in there,” Gross said. “I’m very proud of her.”
The original time frame from Pinkerton’s injury indicated she might be able to make it back in time for regionals, but her latest doctor’s visit last week eliminated those hopes.
If Sissonville is to survive tough tests against No. 1 Hoover and No. 2 Wayne in the regional final, they will need to continue to rely on Young.
“We were hoping to get Karli back but we now know she won’t be returning until next season,” Gross said. “We miss her but Brooke has really stepped up, and is doing a great job for us.”
Gross admitted when Pinkerton first went down, it was a crushing blow for the Indians at one of the most important positions on the field.
“It was very stressful trying to figure out what we were going to do,” Gross said. “Brooke had some big shoes to fill with Karli, who is an all-around athlete here (Sissonville) with softball basketball, and soccer.
“Looking at what our options were going to be, honestly it went straight to Brooke. We figured the best thing was to have her step in and take the position. We knew out of what we had, she was the only one that had ever played there. We didn’t want to throw anyone there that was unfamiliar.”
Gross and Young admitted things were a little tense with the move at first.
“She was very nervous going out there,” Gross said. “It was really fresh for her. She was our (junior varsity) catcher. She played shortstop in middle school but other than that, she was unfamiliar on what to do.”
“After Karli went down, they told me it was my spot,” Young recalled. “It was a shock at first. My stomach was tore upside down. I was so scared and nervous.”
Young knew there was a lot to learn.
“Karli is a really great player and then suddenly one game, we lose her like that and then you have to throw a freshman out there,” Young said. “It was very difficult.
“It’s a lot of pressure. You have to know where the play is. You have to back up. You have a lot of space to cover. You have to be the cut off. It was a lot.”
The Sissonville coaching staff took it slow with Young, only playing her in the field to get her settled in while using a DP (designated player) to bat for her.
“You never know with a first-year player coming right from middle school and not having any playing time to begin with,” Gross said. “Then an injury happens, and she has to be out there.
“We just had her in the field and had a DP flex in her spot. We wanted to see how she was going to play in the field first.”
A few games in, Young started to settle in, and Gross slowly gave more responsibilities to her, allowing her to bat. Young has hit between the seventh through ninth spot the latter part of the season.
“I could tell Brooke was starting to get more comfortable with the nerves, mental preparation, and focus. She struggled at first batting, but has come around, earned that spot, and is performing at both.”
Young knows she has come a long way on offense and defense.
“I just had to believe in myself,” Young said. “I am a lot more comfortable now. It’s pretty exciting and has been a good experience because I am a freshman and playing a lot on varsity.
“I’ve had a lot of fun this season. It means a lot. Now I have an experience of a lifetime. I’m with a great group of people and we have come very far.”
Young has earned the respect of her teammates as well, who has her back despite the devastating loss of Pinkerton.
“I cried when we lost Karli,” said Sissonville standout sophomore pitcher Alexee Haynes, who has verbally committed to Division I Pittsburgh. “It was a shock with her being hurt like that.
“Karli was a big asset to us but Brooke has come in and replaced her just as well. It has relieved a lot of stress to know you have a player step up like that as a freshman.”