Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 11, 2013

Southards shine for Blooming Grove

Mike Phillips
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — They bring a whole new meaning to the term “catching on” but there’s a lot more to the Southard kids — Steely and Keller — a brother and sister catching act at Blooming Grove who are both tough as the steers they raise.

Steely, a rising senior, was voted the top softball catcher in District 23-2A, and her brother Keller, a rising sophomore, was not only the best catcher in the district, but he won the District 23-2A Defensive Player of the Year award in baseball along with two other players.

It’s rare to have a catcher in the family, and two is almost unheard of — and two stars behind the plate? National League MVP Buster Posey has two brothers who both play baseball. They’re both pitchers.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever heard of a brother-sister combo that played the same position,’’ Blooming Grove softball coach Haley Harrell said. “I’ve played all my life and this is my third year coaching and I’ve never heard of it. It’s very, very unusual, especially to be catchers. That’s a very hard position.”

It’s arguably the toughest spot on the diamond, but that’s a perfect fit for Steely and Keller, who grew up raising livestock and working on their parents’ spread.

They have both been playing on the diamond since they were little kids. Steely, who is two years and two days older, started playing T-ball when she was 5. She was born a day before Christmas, Keller a day after.

“Keller wasn’t old enough but he was always hanging around the team so they got him a uniform and let him play T-ball,’’ Steely said.

The siblings have been competing since.

“They’re crazy,’’ their mother, Caroline, said. “They compete at everything — running to get in the front seat of the car to the last cookie. They’re just competitive.’’

“We wrestle,’’ Steely said.

“It’s more like fighting,’’ said Keller, jumping in to finish his sister’s sentence.

It’s like that all the time with the Southard kids, who push each other to be better on and off the field.

They love and care about each other, and they’re proud of the other’s success — just competitive about it.

Both have strong arms and big hearts for the game.

They grew up with good old-fashioned values about hard work and giving it your best, and that’s why both have been successful in everything from academics to showing livestock to catching balls in the dirt and blocking the plate.

“Steely will get in the dirt, and when they try to score on her it’s like a brick wall back there. I think her brother is the same way,’’ Harrell said of the Southards.

Keller is the one who caught first. He was in first grade and his cousin was teaching him catching skills, but when her team needed a catcher Steely, who was 8, was elected.

“She kind of became a catcher by default,’’ said her father, Jon, who was her coach at the time. “She was the only one who could do it.’’

She liked it and spent most of her softball career wearing a mask. When she got to Booming Grove High School Steely moved to shortstop and shined in the infield, but when Blooming Grove needed a catcher this season she stepped back in behind the plate.

“We needed a catcher and I offered to catch and the coach threw me the gear,’’ Steely said. “I like catching because you can see the whole field. And I like it because the catcher is the boss of the of the field. I like to feel like I’m in control.’’

She had a monster season at the plate, hitting .404 with a .513 on-base-percentage and a .661 slugging percentage.

Keller had a big year, too. He threw out more than 70 percent of the runners who tried to steal on him and batted .328 with a .451 on-base-percentage, and he blocked just about every pitch in the dirt as he developed into the best defensive catcher in the district.

“You can count on him in any situation to keep the ball in front of him,’’ Blooming Grove coach Matt Anderson said. “When you have a runner on third you can be confident to throw any pitch because he will block it. For him to come in as a freshman and be named the defensive player of the year with two others is great, and it gives me something to look forward to.’’

Both kids can throw. Steely’s arm is so strong her teammates shy away from playing catch with her.

“She has a cannon,’’ Harrell said. “We had to tone her arm down or she would be throwing the ball to the center field wall. Some of the kids don’t like to play catch with her because she throws the ball so hard.’’

Her drive for the game is even harder.

“She’s fearless,’’ Harrell said. “And Steely is a workhorse. She’s one of those kids you wish you had a whole team full of them. She’s very hard on herself. She expects to be perfect. She works harder than anyone I know. She plays volleyball and runs track and shows animals year round. She’s going to give you everything she’s got no matter what.’’

She adjusts well, too.

“We transitioned her to the left side this year,’’ Harrell said. “She can bunt. She has speed. She has power. She can do it all, and she will just say, ‘Coach, I’ll do whatever do you want me to do.’”

Both kids are versatile. Steely was an All-American competitive cheerleader and a member of the National Honor Society. She made the varsity team in track, volleyball and softball when she was a freshman. Keller pulled off the same feat and was a member of the football team as a tight end and the basketball team as a freshman as well as being voted the best defensive player in the district in baseball. His first love is baseball and he plays for the Waco Buzz traveling team.

“They are both into everything,’’ Anderson said. “He’s got his hands into everything. He plays football, basketball and is in Ag. He definitely knows how to work and manage his time.’’

And Keller is one of those kids who was born to catch. He’s got the mental and physical edge to get the job done.

“He’s tough,’’ Anderson said. “That son-of-a-gun loves baseball. He works hard. They both work hard. Their parents did a great job raising them. They both know what work is.’’

They are the rarest of breeds, the Southards, two catchers with an abundance of talent that stretches in every direction.

Both kids love to raise livestock and have had a lot of success.

Steely’s poultry took first place at the county show this year and Keller’s lamb was second. Their steer finished fifth at the Fort Worth livestock show, and won $8,400. The kids always split the money no matter who wins at the shows. They raise their own pigs, chickens, sheep and steers and have been doing so since they were youngsters.

They push and pull each other, competing at everything, and they still race from the barn to the house every day, just like they did when they were little kids.

“She dusts me,’’ Keller admitted.

And at the end of the day, both kids say the same thing.

“Yeah, I’m proud of her,’’ Keller said.

“And I’m proud of him,’’ Steely added.

There’s nothing rare about that.