Stepping stones to greatness
Warrick overcomes odds, stays humble as softball career soars
Humbleness in the sports world has gone by the wayside for the most part, but there are still rays of hope that shine bright in a few special athletes who very rarely ever think about themselves, being a kindred spirit to others around them.
One of those rare gems is Forrest graduate Katie Warrick, who recently made another step towards a lifelong goal of being the best softball player she can be, accepting a transfer offer from the University of Arkansas.
"I am just blessed and very thankful that God blessed me with softball," Warrick said. "Everybody has a gift, they just have to find it, so I'm thankful I found mine early in life."
Warrick added, "I always like to stay humble because I don't like cocky and when people show how good they are, I just like to play the game as best as I can. I don't talk on social media or anything and I think that's why I may have been under estimated, I just showed them what I had."
Warrick had an incredible freshman season at UT Martin, ranking second in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) with 10 homeruns and a league leading 41 RBI.
Warrick was tied for the team lead with 56 starts and a .521 slugging percentage, batted .299 with 49 hits, 21 runs scored and five doubles, while posting a 3-3 record with one save, a 3.37 earned run average, striking out 23 and walking just four batters in 45.2 innings in the circle for the Skyhawks, who finished the season with a 30-26 record.
"When I got to UT Martin and I got all-conference as a freshman, I said, 'OK I can do this' and then when I got the option to play for Arkansas, I thought, maybe I'm not so bad," Warrick said. "When I got this opportunity I said to myself, 'I may never get this again and I might as well go for it' because you only live once and you want to know how good you can be and compete with people who love the game and find out where you are."
Warrick will be allowed to play next season because UT Martin released her from her scholarship, something both parties agreed to when Warrick originally signed with the Skyhawks out of high school.
On to Razorback country for Warrick, who will take some summer classes in the next of couple of weeks at the famed Fayetteville campus, where she plans on majoring in either nursing or education.
Warrick began her journey to greatness in the backyard of her Unionville home, playing baseball with her brother, who quickly found out that younger sister was pretty good and had a great fastball.
"I grew up watching my brother play baseball, so I loved baseball," said Warrick. "I played baseball until I was nine or 10 years old, so when they told me I couldn't play baseball anymore and I had to play softball, I cried."
Warrick began softball in her seventh grade year at Community before the first of many life changing experiences happened when she attended a Forrest region game at the Field of Dreams in Chapel Hill versus East Robertson.
"That one game hooked me," Warrick said. "It was like a family thing here and it was great and I really believe good coaching and winning attracts people."
Some of us never have the nerve to make tough decisions that could upset life's apple cart, but for Warrick she knew if she wanted to be the great softball player she knew was inside her, Forrest was the place to be and as they say, the rest was history.
"Community was a great school, but watching Forrest and seeing Shelby Stinnett on the mound was when I knew I wanted to be at a school that loved softball and worked at softball," Warrick said. "When I moved, I was like 'I can do this, OK it's not so bad, I will just do my best and if they like me they like me', so it's kind of like the same thing going to Arkansas where I will work hard and show my abilities."
Many great players have gone through the Lady Rockets' program and Warrick, who started from day one as an eighth-grader, will certainly go down as one the best, highlighted by her 51 career homeruns, a record that will more than likely never be broken.
During Warrick's five years with Forrest, the Lady Rockets posted a 137-39-1 overall record, including an incredible 55-5 district record that resulted in five District 9-A Tournament titles, three Region 5-A titles and four trips to the state tournament.
"My mom always told me to do my best no matter what, she said that champions are made when nobody is watching you, when nobody is at the game and make your mistakes there, not in a game," Warrick said. "My parents never had to beg me to go practice, I just always wanted to, I was always out in the yard hitting or practicing, so it was something I loved to do."
Along the way, Warrick had to endure two more setbacks, starting with a broken leg in her sophomore season and in August of 2014, the worst heartbreak of her life happened when her 21-year old brother Joe Dylan died after being in a car accident.
"My senior year, I started off so depressed, but everyone kept telling me to play for Joe, so that's what I did," Warrick said. "He was my biggest fan so I know he was there with me every game."
Overcoming the loss of sibling is tough, very tough and it was on Warrick, but she endured with the help of her faith, her family, good friends and softball, something Joe loved seeing her excel at.
2015 would be Warrick's last season for Forrest and things just kind of fell in place for the Lady Rockets behind the leadership of the four seniors on the squad.
Briar Mays, who had left the team in her freshman year came back and Warrick credits that as one of the key moments as far as completing a lineup that could contend for the elusive state championship that Warrick coveted dearly.
"Briar was the missing piece and it gives me chills thinking about," Warrick said. "I am so glad she came back to play and I really don't think we would have done it and be the champions we are today without her."
Warrick was the silent leader, letting her skills on the field guide others and she credits Kiyoko Puca with taking on the team leadership role in a way that the squad needed and her battery mate Savannah Brothers, who Warrick called her rock behind the plate.
"Kiyoko had the leadership, Briar had the energy and Savannah was the base because she was a leader on the field where it all started behind the plate, it was just so great," Warrick said.
Boy did it all come together for Forrest, who posted a 35-5 record, including an unbelievable undefeated mark in Class A play in a season that was culminated by 18 straight wins to end the campaign as the Lady Rockets captured the school's second state championship.
"When we won the state championship game I was hugging my brother Gabe and I said 'where's Joe' because I knew he was there, I knew he was there," Warrick said. "He did this, he wanted me to be happy. Now I just play for Briar, for everyone who is not here and everyone who can't, it just gives you a different perspective."
In spite of Warrick's pain, it was a great moment and Warrick credited the Chapel Hill community for the support they showed, coming out in droves to support the Lady Rockets at the state.
Playing for Briar
The last setback in Warrick's life happened during her freshman year at UT Martin when Mays, who was on a softball scholarship at Roane State Community College called her to inform her she had cancer.
"She called me and I just cried," Warrick said. "She was the one optimistic about it, saying 'Katie I'm going to be alright, I'll be sick for a while, but I will be ok.' I play every game for her, I write her initials and my brothers in the dirt every game before the National Anthem."
Warrick is a unique athlete, seemingly able to muster up a great focus at the plate in those crucial situations that she covets and has trained for year round, playing on the national travel ball circuit with the Tennessee Ballhawks and the East Cobb Bullets out of Georgia.
"It's just instinct, this feeling comes over you, you get so nervous, but in those situations sometimes the game kinds of slows down and somehow you get that game winning hit and I wonder sometimes why I can't do that all the time, but that's probably impossible," Warrick said. "It's not for the glory, it's for the team, you just want to live for those situations, and you live for wanting to be up with two outs and the winning run on second base. I want to be up to bat when that happens."
Warrick was voted as Max Prep All-American her senior year in high school and was also selected to the USA Junior Olympic Pool that will give her the opportunity to try out for the squad next summer.
Softball has not been included since the 2008 Olympics, but will return in the 2020 games at Tokyo, Japan.
Warrick is excited for that opportunity and commented, "Softball is just as hard as baseball and people underestimate girl's abilities and they shouldn't. To play for my country would be great and very exciting."