Her coach asked how Madelyn Carlson was feeling, fresh off her clearance from a doctor to begin playing softball again.
“I can hit,” she said.
So he added her to the Enumclaw High School softball team’s lineup — No. 3 in the order — and watched as she stepped into the left-handed side of the batter’s box and opened the season with a single.
Only Carlson had never before batted left-handed in a game.
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“I thought she was going into bat right-handed,” Enumclaw coach Mike Eckhart said. “I saw her go up to the plate and I’m thinking, ‘What are you doing?’ ”
“I had only practiced hitting left-handed, so I kind of assumed that he knew. I was like, ‘Sorry,’ ” Carlson laughed.
She can’t bat from her normal side of the plate because of a pain she’s felt in her right elbow since the fall. Although she has visited many doctors, none have come up with a diagnosis, and all she was told was to rest it.
Carlson recently began seeing Dr. Edward Khalfayan, who is the Seattle Seahawks’ team physician.
“I’ve had like every scan you can think of,” Carlson said. “Some have come up with something little, but they haven’t pinpointed the problem.”
Not that a bad elbow was going to keep her down.
Carlson has been the staple of the Hornets’ program the past three years, starting as a freshman and producing big numbers at the plate and pitching. She was a first-team All-Area selection by The News Tribune last season as a utility player, hitting .543 with a .943 slugging percentage, and she’s never lost a game as Enumclaw’s starting pitcher (18-0, 1.35 ERA).
And that was all while pitching behind two-time All-Area player of the year Quinn Breidenbach, who just finished her freshman season at UMass. This was going to be Carlson’s year.
“With what she’s done for this program, wherever she can play, we’re going to have her in there in there, as far as I’m concerned,” Eckhart said.
Carlson thought her senior season was over before it started. But she noticed her elbow didn’t hurt as much if she batted left handed — which she said she had only tried for fun, but never in a game. Her elbow hurts most when she pulls with it, but batting left-handed is more of a push motion.
She doesn’t play in the field — where she was a standout third baseman and first baseman — and doesn’t pitch. But she’s been a designated hitter since being cleared the play that third game of the season against Federal Way.
She’s batting .456 with five doubles and two triples.
Enumclaw pitcher Rylee Agnew naturally bats left-handed. But if she had to bat right-handed?
“I’d whiff,” she said with a laugh. “I don’t think I’d make contact at all. I don’t know how Lynn does it.”
Eckhart moved Carlson down in the lineup after that Federal Way game, not fully trusting her awkward left-handed swing, but he’s since moved her back into the heart of the order. She’ll bat third in this weekend’s 4A West Central/Southwest bidistrict tournament when Enumclaw opens against South Kitsap at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Kent Service Fields.
If the Hornets win their first two games, they’ll head to the state tournament for the sixth consecutive season. And Carlson is holding out hope she might be able to play in the field at some point.
“It’s frustrating — it’s definitely frustrating,” Carlson said. “I really want to play in the field and be 100 percent. But I’m just doing the best I can with what I can do.
“And I think it’s really important not to show that I’m frustrated, because if I do or think that I can’t do something, then it not only brings my team down, but it brings me down, too.”
And Carlson’s injury is only one of the facets that has made this the most unique season Eckhart said he’s experienced in his 25 years as Enumclaw’s coach.
Enumclaw has been one of the South Sound’s premier softball programs. It won four consecutive league titles and four consecutive district titles before moving into the 4A North Puget Sound League’s Olympic division this year from the 3A South Puget Sound League. Carlson helped the Hornets reach the state title game in two of the past three seasons.
But the Hornets (10-7), who have six new starters at nine positions from last year, opened the season with three losses in their first four games. They have practiced on their field only six times this year because of rainy weather, with the rest of their time spent practicing indoors at the middle school gymnasium while the high school gym is renovated.
Enumclaw went two weeks without playing a game, then played six games in eight days.
“And we’re in a new league with a new team. It’s been hard to get into a rhythm,” Eckhart said. “You can’t work in the dirt, you can’t work with the sun in your eyes. It’s just been a weird year.”
After Breidenbach graduated, Eckhart figured that his main pitchers would be Carlson and Agnew, who was the Hornets’ starting left fielder last year.
But with Carlson’s injury, Agnew has been thrust into a lead role on the mound, though Enumclaw has also used freshmen Aydree and Kaysa Ledbetter and junior Emma Gunter as pitchers.
“I definitely had to step up,” Agnew said. “I didn’t know if I was ready. I pitched with my club team all year, so pitching wasn’t out of the blue, but I had never pitched for this team before in my four years.”
Eckhart said he’s let Carlson occasionally call pitches from the dugout. She has found other ways to contribute.
Carlson, who plans to play at Whitworth University next year, was born in Colorado but moved to Washington when she was 7 and soon after began playing softball.
“She’s the first one to practice and the last one to leave and never says anything bad about anybody,” Eckhart said. “I talked to her dad (Peter) about it and he’s like, ‘You know, she shows a good face to the kids, but we’ve had some rough nights.’
“You would never know that in front of her teammates. She’s always helped in any way she can. So she’ll always get a chance to play.”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677