Long-awaited season fuels Topeka High’s Zoe Caryl to huge start to 2021 softball season
TOPEKA, Kan. – If there seems to be a heightened energy level every time Zoe Caryl steps into the batter’s box this season, well, that’s because there is.
And it’s more than the fact that it’s her senior season for Topeka High, her last hurrah before she heads off to play college softball at Illinois. And it’s more than just having missed out on her junior season, which was canceled when the Kansas State High School Activities Association shut down spring sports last March.
Nope, there’s far to it than that.
“I’ve been waiting for this year since, umm, I was two years old,” Caryl said. “I finally get to play with my little sister. It was supposed to happen last year, and we didn’t get to do it which was upsetting. But now we’re both on the field, a dynamic duo, and I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.”
Already a standout at the plate during her freshman and sophomore seasons at High, Caryl has fed off the presence of having sophomore sister Adisyn in the dugout and on the field with her and is off to a huge start to her senior season.
With seven hits and 11 RBIs in Thursday’s 19-0, 19-3 doubleheader sweep of rival Topeka West at Hummer Sports Park, Caryl is hitting .785 through four games with 14 RBI, both city bests early in the season.
The senior catcher tore up the Chargers, going 4 for 4 with a double, two triples and four RBI in the first game before going 3 for 4 with a double and home run and seven RBI in the second game. The double and home run came in the same inning, a 12-run explosion in the second inning where she drove in six of those runs.
“I’m hitting in the two hole, which is different for me,” Caryl said. “I’m normally third or fourth. But I thought if I can get on, score and give energy for my team from the two hole, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m doing that and driving in runs, too, so yeah, the two hole works for me.”
“She’s kind of our rock, our leader who sees everything out on the field,” High coach Shane Miles said of Caryl. “Zoe at the plate, she’s producing RBI and that means the other girls are getting on for her.”
Coming off a Class 6A state tournament appearance in 2019, the Trojans returned a handful of key performers off that squad led by Caryl and junior pitcher NiJaree Canady. Despite losing last year, Miles said he didn’t really see much effects of the lost season and has seen plenty of carryover into the 2021 season.
Thursday’s sweep moved the Trojans to 4-0 on the season after opening with a sweep of Class 5A powerhouse and three-time reigning state champion Shawnee Heights.
“We have a group of four seniors who were on that team and yeah, COVID year sucked that we didn’t get to play, but we really didn’t lose anything during that time,” Miles said. “We’ve had some nice young players step in and we’ve had a nice start.”
High was supposed to open the season against KC Harmon. But when the Hawks canceled, the Trojans were able to schedule last Friday’s doubleheader with Heights.
High won the first game 9-0 behind a dominant two-hit, 10-strikeout shutout from Canady before pulling out a 2-1 win in the second game on a Heights error in the sixth.
The sweep was a huge start to the season for the Trojans.
“We’ve been waiting to play Shawnee Heights since my freshman year,” said Caryl, who went 4 for 6 in the doubleheader with three RBI in the opener. “Coming out and winning that game really got us good momentum. We’ve got so many goals this year and winning those games really got us off to a good start on those.”
“They’re still a quality team even though they graduated some studs that went on,” Miles said of the T-Birds. “They’re still going to win 15, 16 games this year. Our bats came alive the first game and then we had to grind one out in the second game. We get more out of those 2-1 games with situation stuff and having to work for runs than we do out of blowouts.”
High couldn’t avoid blowouts against West on Thursday, putting together innings where it scored 8, 6, 5, 12 and 6 runs. The Trojans knocked out 29 hits in the doubleheader and in addition to Caryl’s 11 RBI, Canady drove in five in the opener, including a grand slam home run, while Adisyn Caryl and Amiah Cain each drove in four in the twinbill and Zoie Kincade and Mia Kelly each had two-RBI games.
“Our chemistry is just really good this year,” Zoe Caryl said. “I’m just really excited to see what we can do.”
High will get a good idea where it’s at soon. The Trojans’ next three doubleheaders are against Manhattan, Seaman and Washburn Rural with the Manhattan and Rural twinbills on the road.
“We’ve got a tough stretch here,” Miles said. “We’re really going to have to get after it.”
TOPEKA HIGH 19-19, TOPEKA WEST 0-3
Canady, Smith (3) and Z. Caryl. Miller, Thompson (2) and Thurman. WP — Canady. LP — Miller. 2B — High: A. Caryl, Z. Caryl, Canady, Joyce 2, Kincade. 3B — High: Z. Caryl 2. HR — Canady.