Carlee Mollet had already won two state championships before she helped lead the Ripley High fast-pitch softball team to its greatest season ever this fall.
She likely would have had three if not for the COVID-19 pandemic forcing officials to cancel the rest of the spring 2020 season in mid-March. Mollet would have been the favorite to win gold once again.
However, it was in an individual track and field event, not in the two team sports she plays. Mollet won the 300-meter hurdles state title at the Class A meet in 2018 and 2019 as a freshman and sophomore, respectively.
Both state championships were accomplishments Mollet was proud of in her first two years of high school, but the goal of winning a title in her truest passion still remained.
“I know I’m fast and pretty good at track, but that’s never been something I’ve really been passionate about,” Mollet said. “I’m not going to say I don’t like it, but sometime I don’t enjoy the thought of running all the time. I think I’ll enjoy my last season of track this spring and making the most out of it and cherishing every opportunity I get with my teammates.”
It all changed Oct. 10.
Mollet was a huge piece of the puzzle this fall including the state tournament, as she went 3 for 3 at the plate and reached base in all five at-bats in the championship game. She helped Ripley win its first state title in any girls’ sport, adding a second title to a school that had only a 2002 boys’ basketball state championship.
“Since she came in a a freshman, she’s been a leader within our program, and it’s taken a lot of great kids like her and like her other seniors who are really high-character kids with really great work ethics, unselfish and really committed to making our team be the best it could be,” Ripley softball coach Kaleb Hoffman said. “She put in extra time, extra work and leads by example, in addition to being a great teammate, especially to the younger kids in our program.
“She’s a positive role model every day, showing up with a work-hard mindset. We’ve been blessed with Carlee and other players like her that put our team success first. To see her hard work pay off and to see our team’s hard work pay off is indescribable.”
For her play in the state tournament and her entire career at Ripley, Mollet was named the Stillwater News Press All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
“I still go back and watch videos of that state final game and it’s set in a little bit, but I still think it needs to set in more, because it’s crazy to think about,” Mollet said. “I tend to think about it a lot. … It has set in a little bit, but I asked my coach the other day, ‘Do you know when we’re going to get our rings?’ He said he does, so I asked him ‘Can you tell me when or is it supposed to be a surprise?’ He never did tell me, but I think he wants it to be a surprise, but that’s something we’re all looking forward to.”
Mollet admitted she wasn’t sure if she would have a senior fast-pitch season because of the pandemic. It was a concern of hers and her teammates.
Yet, they tried to remain positive. Mollet said the Lady Warriors kept telling themselves to cherish every moment they were on the field, whether practicing or playing a game. They tried to take advantage of every opportunity, because they weren’t sure what would happen with the season.
In the end, their season went off quite smoothly. They finished with a 40-5 record, and avenged losing in the 2018 state finals and 2019 state quarterfinals.
Both of those losses stung, but they were the signs of a program moving in the right direction after earning just four wins in 2015, which was Hoffman’s first with the program. However, the losses motivated an experienced team that was adding a talented freshman class.
“Last year’s first-round loss gave us a perspective in our minds as to what we needed to improve upon and what we needed to do better,” Mollet said. “… Our goal was to always make it to the state tournament, and once we did, our goal was to win it all. This year, our goal was to win the state championship.”
Mollet had quite a performance in the state final – going 3 for 3 with a walk and reaching base a fifth time on an error. But, that day didn’t begin well for the senior who was about to play her final high school fast-pitch game.
While taking batting practice that morning, Mollet attempted a bunt, but the ball bounced off the bat and hit her in the left eye. The black eye that ensued remained through the game. The incident actually motivated Mollet to play harder, but what she didn’t realize until later that night was her vision was impaired for the game.
“I actually found out that night after the state finals game that I played with one contact in,” Mollet said. “My contact fell out whenever the ball hit me that morning and I didn’t realize it because I thought my eye might have been a little blurry from getting hit. I didn’t think anything about a contact falling out, which is a good thing because I think it would have affected me more.
“… My dad said, ‘Maybe you should get hit in the eye before every game. don’t know about that.”
Mollet capped her career with a .607 (17 of 28) batting average in seven state tournament games. She hit .432 this fall with seven doubles, six triples and five home runs.
The left-handed batter who throws right handed – the opposite of her father – challenged opposing pitchers with her ability to play small ball or crush pitches with ease. Unlike many left-handed softball batters, Mollet wasn’t one to try slapping the ball, instead opting to bunt or usually swing for power.
“It was something we talked about when she was a younger player,” Hoffman said. “We wanted to get herself to a point where she was just really hard to defend. Because of her speed, if teams played her back to respect the power she had, we could lay down a bunt or if teams played her to bunt, having the confidence to stand in the box and get a good pitch to hit and hit it hard somewhere. That’s something she worked really hard on in her development as a hitter.”
Mollet admitted she prefers swinging for power, but will do whatever is asked of her, especially at the leadoff spot. She knew the importance of getting on base to help her team.
“I feel like it’s my job to get our team going,” Mollet said. “I feel like I can create that positive energy, so I always have it in my mind that I need to get on base or kind of set the tone.”
Hoffman said Mollet hit in the leadoff spot throughout her entire high school career. It was a role he trusted her in, because of her ability to make contact with the ball and her speed.
“I think it goes back to how she leads by example,” Hoffman said. “She kind of embraced that role as a leadoff hitter. She understood how important that leadoff spot is to set the tone for our offense, and to get on base with other great hitters behind her.
“She’s always had good leadoff hitter characteristics – doesn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches, has a high on-base percentage and obviously she runs really well. She just fit that leadoff spot for her entire career.”