McKenna Carpenter and Emily Garron have played countless games together, but they are coming down to their final ones.
The seniors helped the High School North softball team put together one of the best years in program history—a 15-5 season, which finished on May 23 with a 9-2 win against High School South.
Carpenter has been pitching and Garron catching together consistently since middle school, and they can trace the roots of their combination all the way back to some Little League action.
“I met McKenna in first grade,” Garron said. “Our families are really close. For softball, we started playing together since seventh grade, and we became closer over travel softball.”
They played together so much beginning in middle school that combined with the school day, it seemed like they spent more time together than apart.
“Travel helped us come together a lot quicker,” Carpenter said. “We’d pitch and catch together at practice, then on the weekends we had three or four games we’d pitch together. In middle school, we’d play on three teams together. We used to joke about we were getting sick of each other. We’d see each other in school, then after school in practice. We clicked pretty quick.”
The two blossomed into a reliable battery that gave the Knights a strong starting point on defense. Carpenter and Garron made things easier for all.
“It’s a relief to not have to worry about every second that you have to plan and call pitches because your catcher is inexperienced and young,” said Knights head coach Jason Petrone. “It’s not the case. Since Emily became a junior, I’ve been able to rely on her. They work all year-round. She knows McKenna better than I do. They know some of the girls better than I do from playing travel against all these other teams. As Emily has grown and matured, she has a real good handle on it.”
The combination proved dominant at times. Carpenter struck out 19 in a 4-0 no-hitter over Nottingham on Apr. 23, then the next day threw another no-hitter in a 12-0 win over Hamilton West. Just for good measure, Carpenter also singled, doubled and homered in the win.
“She’s really confident as a pitcher,” Garron said. “She’s an all-around kind of athlete. I’ve seen her pitch in some really tough situations in travel and school.”
It helps Carpenter to have Garron on the receiving end. Carpenter has confidence that she can throw any of her seven pitches—fastball, curveball, screwball, drop, rise, change-up or curve-drop—and Garron will get it.
“It makes such a big difference to have someone I know,” Carpenter said. “She’s caught for me in Little League, middle school and high school. She knows when something is working for me. And I’m comfortable shaking her off… She’s good at looking at the batter’s stance when they step in the box and knowing what they want to do.”
Although there is the occasional shake off, but the two are almost always on the same page. It’s helped them effectively attack each hitter.
“Me and Kenna, we’re counting on the same idea,” Garron said. “We’ll walk off and say, ‘I wanted to call that pitch too.’ We know what she’s capable of throwing in certain situations and that she’s able to execute certain pitches.
“I think it developed over the years. We’ve been best friends over the years. We know each other as more than players….She can trust in me and I can trust in her to hit her spots.”
The two began playing in Little League, and both remember being on opposing teams more than playing together early in their careers.
“We were always on opposite teams,” Garron said. “I remember a little bit, not specific things. We’d hang out off the field. We’d hang out and get food. Everyone was friends and we’d hang out together. It was a lot of fun.”
Garron pitched back then sometimes as well, but she was already making a good impression as a catcher. Carpenter was already showing a lot of promise as a pitcher.
North reached the semifinals of the Mercer County Tournament before losing to Steinert, and fell in the Central Jersey Group III state tournament opener, 1-0, to Wall on May 21. It was a tough way to bow out, with Carpenter allowing only three hits; WW-P North had four hits but couldn’t piece them together to drive in a run and extend their postseason.
“I think it was one of our best seasons,” Carpenter said. “We started off really good. Freshman year we had a pretty good record. My sophomore and junior year we struggled a little bit, but this year we definitely stepped it up.
The two still have some games left together. They play travel softball for the Jersey Inferno. Beyond that, they will go their separate ways. Garron will continue her career at DeSales University. Carpenter will focus on academics at the University of Utah.
“We have this summer season together,” Garron said. “I’ll be very sad when it’s our last travel game. Travel is our main thing. We see a lot of teams that we don’t normally play.”
Garron expects to continue catching in college, though she’s also prepared for the chance to play elsewhere if necessary to get on the field. She has developed into a reliable catcher that Carpenter expects will do well at the next level.
“She’s really aggressive with throwing down,” Carpenter said. “If they try to steal, which is rare because they know how good she throws, she’ll throw them out.”
“I’m going to miss catching for McKenna a lot,” Garron said. “I know we’ll stay as friends. When we get breaks (from school), we’ll link up. I always joke, one day we’ll be coaching together.”
The battery will be together to finish off travel season and enjoy their final games together after years of developing into a reliable combination.
“I like how comfortable I feel when I’m pitching to her,” Carpenter said. “I get nervous in big game situations. She comes out and calms me down. We have our pow-wows and she’ll calm me and down and tell me about her day. I’m definitely going to miss that.”