Not every high school softball player can say they have a stat line as impressive as this one. Her batting average was .519 with 7 home runs, 55 RBI, 41 runs and a staggering 33 extra base hits. On top of that, she threw 91.2 innings with a 2.6 ERA and 60 strikeouts. One person who can say she posted these number is this year’s All-RRV MVP, Karsyn Iltis.

The star sophomore produced at an elite level for the North Lamar Pantherettes softball team. However, it came with a price in the form of time, dedication and hard work.

“She has a great work ethic,” North Lamar head softball coach Ashley Endsley said of Karsyn. “She works hard and is a great leader on and off the field. She’s always trying to get better at something in practice at everything she does, and it shows on the field.”

Looking to improve is something that drives Karsyn to be great whether it was at the plate or in the circle.

“I put in a lot of work each and every day to get better,” Karsyn said. “I was just waiting for my pitch. I knew it was going to come, and I would just try my best to put it where it was supposed to be and where the best place to hit would be depending on the situation we were in.”

Karsyn did most of her damage throughout the year with her bat. However, towards the beginning of her team’s playoff run, she had to step into the circle for injured teammate Jaycie Hall, and she knew she needed to produce.

“When Jaycie (Hall) got hurt, I knew I had to step up and do my best,” Karsyn said. “Every day, I went out and pitched with my dad for at least an hour, and I would just work on little things every time to get better for the team. I knew I had to step up for everyone and that something had to change. I just tried to work my hardest and not give up.”

As North Lamar continued to go deeper into the playoffs, Karsyn continued to grow stronger — she knew she wasn’t in it alone.

“I became more confident because everyone wanted it so bad — we were all in it,” Karsyn said. “I knew my teammates would go all out and dive for everything. They were amazing behind me. Through all of the games, I gained more and more trust in the team, and our chemistry continued to grow. As my confidence grew, so did my level of comfort on the mound.”

“She really stepped up and really came out strong for us in the postseason,” Karsyn’s teammate Ashlyn Reavis said. “I believed in her and I know our team believed in her. She’s been helping produce at the plate all year for us, and she did a good job at first base and on the mound. I’m glad I can play with a kid like Karsyn. I remember in the postseason I was always telling Karsyn in the circle that we had her back. She didn’t always want to listen to it, but I was confident that she always knew she could trust us. She was a stud.”

The sophomore led her team into the fourth round against Melissa. After falling in the first game 4-3 on Melissa’s home field and trailing 4-1 in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 2 at home, Karsyn and her teams’ backs were against the wall. However, this series is when Karsyn shined her brightest.

North Lamar eventually went on to oust Melissa in the regional semifinals in three games, and Karsyn was the workhorse. She finished with 4 hits and 5 RBI from the plate, and pitched all 23 innings in the grueling series with 12 strikeouts and a 2.16 ERA. Karsyn did it all for her team, which started with the way she prepares each day.

“The workload goes into our day in and day out preparation,” Endsley said. “We go to the weight room twice a week and we don’t take any days off — she really starts in August with her offseason. When you get to that point in the season, it’s just about how bad do you want it, and she wanted it pretty bad.”

No matter how high the stakes were or what situation she and her team was faced with, Karsyn never seemed to get rattled. She simply knew remaining poised was the best bet for her to succeed and be at her best for her team.

“I wouldn’t go up there and be frustrated and tense, instead I just treated every game like a normal game,” Karsyn said. “I took things pitch by pitch and treated every single at bat the same. I just didn’t think about things too much because I knew I would just get in my own head. I just went up there, waited for my pitch and did what I had to do all year.”

Karsyn helped guide North Lamar to the regional finals, where the Pantherettes faced the Anna Lady Coyotes in a winner-take-all game at Texas A&M-Commerce. North Lamar, the top-ranked team in the state at the time, battled it out with the upstart Lady Coyotes in an instant classic.

Along with pitching the entire game, Karsyn made a huge play for her team. With two outs in the top of the seventh and trailing 4-3, Karsyn hit an inside-the-park home run to tie the game at 4-all. Unfortunately, Anna had the last laugh in a heart-breaking 5-4 walk-off victory, which was a tough pill to swallow.

“It was really tough because I knew everybody wanted it, and I just wanted to play my heart out for the seniors,” Karsyn said. “It was their year, and we had everything going for us this year. When they (Anna) hit that last ball, all of our heads went down. We were just down because we knew we could have done it, and the result wasn’t what we wanted, but we still left that field knowing we had a great year.”

The loss was painful, but Karsyn knew she and her teammates had no business hanging their heads because of how they defied the odds and fought well as a unit. In return, the support continued to grow and fuel Team 29.

“I’m really proud of what we’ve done this year,” Karsyn said. “There were some people who didn’t think we wouldn’t make it this far, and we just liked proving people wrong. Every time we advanced to the next round, there were less people that doubted us. We just pushed through it, and I think we became more confident as more and more fans filled the stands.”

Leading a team on a deep playoff run is a life-altering experience. For Karsyn, she learned that her motor and will to win were both incredibly strong.

“I learned that even whenever I was tired, I could keep going and keep throwing outs,” Karsyn said. “I proved that even when we were losing, we could still come back and get the win. We never gave up and just kept on going.”

Resilient, relentless and rewarding are three words that describe North Lamar’s season. The attitude, mindset and relationships built make this team an unforgettable one for Karsyn to be a part of.

“This is probably one of my favorite teams I’ve ever played with,” Karsyn said. “Our chemistry was amazing, and we hang out with each other all the time. The bonds that I’ve formed with everyone on the team are going to continue to get stronger and stronger.”

The road doesn’t stop with the loss in the regional finals. Not by a long shot. Karsyn plans to continue to grow, improve and show people what she’s made of in travel ball.

“I play travel ball, and I don’t play around here very often,” Karsyn said. “When I do, I want to be able to show people what I can do because they don’t normally get to see me play. When I come back, I feel like people don’t know as much about me, so I want to show those people what I can do. I also just like proving to myself what I’m capable of even if I didn’t know I was capable of doing it.”

Geoff Heppes is sports editor for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6967 or at geoff.heppes@theparisnews.com.

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