Caitlin Merritt, in many ways, sets the table for the Livingston Central softball team.
The senior is not only the All A Classic State Softball Tournament champions' leadoff hitter, but has 16 starts at pitcher, which would be tough for many to handle.
And when not on the mound, she plays where Livingston Central coach Stan Head needs her the most, usually in center field.
It's a role the All A Classic Tournament MVP finds challenging, but relishes.
"I have a lot on my back right now, but I'm a senior and I have to lead my team," said Merritt, who went 3-0 on the mound and 11-for-19 batting with six RBI, including a 3-run home run, during the All A Tournament last weekend in Owensboro. "I'll always try to do the best for them."
Merritt is hitting .389 with a slugging percentage of .722. She has three home runs and 23 RBI from her leadoff spot and is 11-5 on the mound.
Head said in a perfect world he wouldn't have Merritt, who will continue her softball career at Brescia University next year, do both roles. But her play makes her too invaluable not to.
"I don't like having my leadoff hitter be the pitcher, but she's such a good hitter and base runner," he said. "She knows how to play and she wants the bat in her hand. So we put her out there and try to courtesy run her when we can. But she starts the game for us and gets it going."
Merritt is one of five seniors - along with Jennifer Head, Ashley Wright, Danielle Doyle and Hailee Lampley - who help share the leadership role for the Lady Cardinals. Merritt also shares the starting pitching duties with Padon, a junior.
Merritt's teammates appreciate the dedication she brings to the game and her leadership.
"She's a great hitter and really proved that this weekend," said Padon, who also went 2-0 during the tournament, including manning the mound for the state championship victory.
"It's just great knowing either one of us can come in and get the job done. Coach has told us many times he doesn't know who is going to pitch. But it doesn't matter, because we're really good friends and it's not a competition of who pitches and who doesn't. Because if I'm pitching she's in the outfield and she kind of calms the outfield down and controls it out there. She's a great leader."
They say Merritt's bat can become contagious and that she's a soothing source on the hill.
"When she hits, we all hit," junior Hannah Leidecker said. "And when she gets on the mound, it's great because all the pressure is off of us. She's a great leader."
So where does Merritt get her strength from? Well, it should be no surprise she gets that from two places, too.
"I lean on the Lord a lot," said Merritt, whose father, Jarry, is a preacher. "I go up to the plate saying, 'Please Lord, let me hit the ball,' or I'll be in the outfield, 'Please, Lord, let me catch it.' I'm like that all the time and He helps me. He did this for us. I'm just so proud of my team and that He did this for us."
Merritt said her dad is her rock.
"He's my foundation," she said. "He's a strong father for me and my brother (Jared). He's always there for us for every game, every practice and when it rains, he's always there for us."
Call James D. Horne, a Sun sports writer, at 270-575-8661 or follow on Twitter @psunsports.
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