Karissa Carlton enjoyed a banner softball career at North Smithfield High, one that culminated with Thursdayâ€™s announcement of her being named R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year. PHOTO BY ERNEST A. BROWN
NORTH SMITHFIELD --- Itâ€™s very rare for a Division II player in any sport to receive the R.I. Gatorade Player of the Year award, but North Smithfieldâ€™s Karissa Carlton landed the stateâ€™s biggest individual honor on Thursday.
The 5-foot-1 senior ace pitcher of the two-time Division II-North champion Northmen won the award thanks to a phenomenal season that saw her post a 16-1 record with an 0.72 ERA and strike out 170 batters and walk 17 in only 92 innings of work.
â€śSheâ€™s one of my favorites,â€ť added Lincoln coach Dick Ryan, who had also given Carlton pitching lessons once a week for the past six years. â€śSheâ€™s just a great kid from a nice family, and she has so much talent, she doesnâ€™t even realize how much [talent] she has. She just has fun with it.â€ť
Carlton joins a very distinguished list of local athletes to receive this award. Last year, Lincoln shortstop/pitcher Lindsay Mayer landed her second honor in a row, and in 2011, another Lincoln standout, pitcher/first baseman Alyssa McCoart, captured it.
St. Raphael Academy ace pitcher Kayleigh Lotti was also a two-time winner (2004 and â€™05). Cumberland pitcher Christine Boutiette also won it in 2001, and another SRA ace pitcher, Jackie Fournier, seized the first two Gatorade awarded to the state in the late 1990s.
But the 16 winners before Carlton all shared one thing in common â€“ they all competed in the stateâ€™s top tier. Carlton, who was a First-Team All-State pick as a junior, is the first Division II softball player to earn the hardware.
â€śI cried a little,â€ť Carlton noted with a laugh when asked about her immediate reaction to the news. â€śI was surprised. I didnâ€™t think I was going to get it. Itâ€™s an incredible award, and itâ€™s really amazing to end my career with something like that.â€ť
â€śShe deserves this award,â€ť offered Ryan. â€śIâ€™m just as happy for her as I was when Lindsay won it the last two years. Iâ€™m very proud of her.â€ť
Carltonâ€™s senior season also included just 46 hits allowed and two no-hitters, with one of them being a perfect game. That helped the Northmen notch the first perfect regular season in team history, a superb campaign that saw N.S. outscore its opponents 123-16 en route to its 16-0 record.
Unfortunately for the Northmen, they absorbed a stunning 10-9 loss to 16th-seeded Prout in the single-elimination round of the Division II tourney. Only one other top-seeded softball team in the RIILâ€™s history â€“ East Providence in the Division I playoffs in 2011 â€“ suffered the same fate.
â€śSheâ€™s been down in the dumps since they lost that game,â€ť said Ryan, â€śbut I think [the award] will make her feel a little bit better.â€ť
Off the field, Carlton has maintained a B average in the classroom, is also a member of the schoolâ€™s large choir, and is a competitive equestrian rider who through her talents, has been a volunteer in providing therapeutic services to children and adults in the community with developmental disorders.
This fall, she will continue her education at the University of Rhode Island and major in Animal Sciences & Technology, but whether she continues her softball career with the Rams remains up in the air.
â€śI wasnâ€™t planning on it,â€ť she admitted. â€śI donâ€™t know if I could play [for a] Division I college [team]. I might try to walk on and hope for the best.â€ť
Follow Eric Benevides on Twitter @EricBen24
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