Softball has stolen a few terms from baseball over the years. Still, one term you don’t hear very often about softball players in the area is: Five-tool player.
But what better way to describe Skowhegan’s Shelby Obert?
Hitting? Obert batted .508 this season and drove in 24 runs. Hitting with power? She had 10 doubles, four triples and four home runs among her 33 hits, giving her a slugging percentage of .969.
Running? Obert stole 18 bases this year and scored 30 runs.
Fielding? Obert was one of the best defensive third basemen in the state.
Throwing? She has an A-plus arm.
All of that makes Obert the choice for the Morning Sentinel Softball Player of the Year. Madison pitcher Emily McKenney, who hit .533 and was 19-2 with a 1.79 ERA, was also considered.
For many years, Obert was a baseball player and a gymnast. It wasn’t until about six years ago that Obert switched from baseball to softball.
“I was pretty familiar with her dad,” Skowhegan coach Lee Johnson said. “He talked about how she was playing baseball and she loved it. I said, ‘Well, at some point, she’s going to have to make the switch over to softball.’ “
“When I was like 12, Coach Johnson just kept calling me and calling me and asking me to play,” Obert said. “I just tried it one time and I fell in love. I loved baseball and I never thought I would stop.”
Obert quickly realized the biggest difference between baseball and softball.
“The release points,” she said. “It was completely different and I couldn’t hit forever. It was awful. I remember freshman year, I was the No. 9 batter and all I did was bunt. I could not hit the ball to save my life.”
Johnson said it was a case of Obert having a long, or baseball, swing.
“She didn’t have a bad swing, but her timing was not great as a hitter,” Johnson said. “It was an adjustment for her, but you could tell immediately that she was a really athletic kid.”
Both Johnson and Obert say the biggest reason for her improvement was playing at the Edge Academy (formerly Frozen Ropes). Once Obert made the team, she would travel three hours round-trip every Sunday to practice for three hours.
“All that hard work really paid off, because when she became a junior, she went from being a bunter to a very dangerous hitter,” Johnson said.
As the hitting came along, Obert’s other tools also evolved. Doing gymnastics for more than a decade taught her to run in a straight line. While she had to give up gymnastics because her joints couldn’t take it anymore — “I got old,” she jokes — running right at a fielder in a rundown made it tougher for the thrower to get a good look at her target.
That was how Obert was on base to score the winning run in the quarterfinals against Edward Little. A rundown throw hit Obert in the back of the helmet and she went to third. From there, she scored on a sacrifice fly and the Indians won, 1-0.
Even Obert’s running on that sacrifice fly was impressive, as Edward Little shortstop Danny Rock made a marvelous diving catch behind third base. Johnson was coaching third and he said that as he turned to tell Obert to tag up, she was already waiting on the bag to see if Rock would make the catch. Plays like that are the reason Obert always had a green light and in fact just about all of those 18 stolen bases were when she ran on her own.
“Because she was such a smart baserunner, I didn’t want her to sit on her heels,” Johnson said. “If she saw an opportunity, I wanted her to take it.”
Defensively, about once per game Obert would make the kind of play where you watched and realized most players simply could not have done it. There was the diving catch down the third-base line in the playoff game against Brewer, which saved two runs and possibly the game. Obert also mastered a play with a runner on third. On ground balls, Obert would fake a throw to first, then catch the runner off third base. Many third basemen try the play, but Obert had great success with it.
Johnson said Obert’s best play this year may have come in preseason, with a runner on first base.
“The girl went to bunt and she popped it up,” Johnson said. “Shelby dove, caught it outside the third-base line and, from her knees, threw the (runner) out at first base.”
It wasn’t just that Obert was athletic and made decisions quickly. She added to that with an outstanding arm.
“She has a crazy arm,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, she’d make throws to first base and I’d get scared for the first baseman.”
“The Brewer game, when they beat us 14-2 here,” Obert said. “The third-base coach came up to me, and he’s like, ‘I’m not going to bunt. You’re too good.’ “
What made Obert’s individual brilliance more satisfying to her was that it came in the context of Skowhegan’s improbable run to the state championship game. The Indians lost to both Brewer and Cony by the mercy rule during the regular season. In the playoffs, they defeated Edward Little, Brewer and Bangor to win the Eastern A title.
“Preseason, I never thought we would get that far,” Obert said. “We had some holes and we filled them. Everybody started working well together and we didn’t move out of our places.”
Next spring Obert will walk on at the University of Maine. She’s talked with Maine coach Lynn Coutts and says she was told she might get playing time if she puts in the work.
“I’m going to work hard and try to get a scholarship out of that,” Obert said.
“I really believe, if she goes up there with the right mindset, they’ll realize how talented she is and she can help them at some point,” Johnson said.
Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243