Categorized | Sports

Lady Cardinal reaches her dream of signing with Freed-Hardeman, completes family triology

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Haley Craig

Haley Craig

Your sister was the first All-State player in Brighton Lady Cardinal history dominating from the pitching circle.

Then your other sister was named an All-District for the same team years later also as a standout pitcher. So for Haley Craig, sitting in the dugout of Lady Cardinals Head Coach Robin Jacobs in 2010 added even more pressure.

“It was my freshman year and Coach Robin put me in three times,” she recalled. “I got a hit every single time. I was batting a .1000 my freshman year. It felt really funny and it felt really good to know I was confident enough to go out there. I knew I could do something. Now I knew I wasn’t going to strike out. I would do something, lay it down and put it somewhere.”

That trio of at bats took a lot of weight off Craig’s shoulders. And for three seasons she was productive as an infielder for the Lady Cardinals earning a name for herself. And on Feb. 28, Craig signed her name to a national letter of intent in the Brighton High School Library to play softball at Freed-Hardeman University.

“She’s a prodigy,” Jacobs said of Craig. “She had people ahead of her and she’s trying to live up to that everyday. That’s a task for her and a challenge. And like I told her dad in an e-mail, ‘I hope she has the success they’ve had.’ Because each one of them played in the State Tournament a couple of times and were really good players. She’s doing her part to get there. She’s a senior leader on our team this year.”

Her sisters Ashley and Staci were leaders for the Lady Cardinals in the 2000s. In 2004 Ashley was named All-State, the first of nine in Brighton Softball history. Haley was in the second grade when she signed to play college softball.

A few years later Staci kept up the tradition of Lady Cardinal winning being named All-District and All-Tournament. As a sixth-grader, Haley watched her signed.  Haley’s signing was No. 3 for parents Steve and Tammy. It was 25 years ago the duo started coaching, supporting and watching their daughters play the game.

“It’s an end of era for us in softball,” Steve said. “So we wanted it to be as special as it could for her and for Brighton in general. We’ve been with the program for a long time.”

The Craig family arrived to the Brighton Softball program in 1998. In the last 15 years, the Craigs have enjoyed several standout seasons, trips to State, hundreds of wins and multiple championships.

In Haley’s time in the Brighton black and red, she’s batted .400, played solid defense at second base and reached base nearly 40 percent of the team batting near the top of the lineup.

“She’s going to fit into our program really well,” FHU Head Coach Todd Humphry said. “We currently have five slappers on the team from the left side. She’s worked right into that mix. I told her, ‘I know you’re used to playing in the infield.’ But I think we might use her in other areas with some outfield stuff as well.”

Over the years Haley developed her craft with her father. She learned several infield positions and working in the outfield.

“She told us early on that she did not want to be a pitcher,” Steve recalled.  The other two girls were pitchers. After I found out she was left-handed, we started working on her left-handed batting and slap hitting because that was what a lot of the programs were going to.”

Haley learning the slapping style helped her bat nearly .700 early last season. And midway through the 2012 campaign, she was in the top five in the state for batting avearge.

While helping the Lady Cardinals stay near the top of District 13-3A the last three years, Haley maintained a 3.65 grade point average and scored a 27 on the ACT. She is a member of the National Honor Society and is an active member of the Brighton Church of Christ.  Part of Haley’s decision to attend Freed-Hardeman was the school spiritual reputation and the good vibe she got from Humphry.

“I really like him,” she said. “And I’ve known since I was little I wanted to go here. When I was little I would say, ‘I wanna go to Freed.’ I don’t really know why. Then I started visiting and I really like it. And since I’m really not the party type of person, if I was at a Christian school it would be more of what I’ll be used to.”

Haley said she enjoyed meeting the current Lady Lions and felt at home on the field. Softball fields have been home for the Craig family for a quarter of a century and the next stop is FHU.

“It’s bittersweet because we’ll be sad that she’s out of school and moving off to college,” Tammy said. “But we couldn’t have picked a better college for her. We’re so excited for her. She was determined to make her own way.

“She admires her sisters because they were so good,” she continued. “And they’ve been there for her supporting her all the way. They come to her ball games and supported her.”

Haley acknowledged following two Lady Cardinal greats and living up to the name were big cleets to fill, but Ashley and Staci were there by her side.

“There was some big pressure because they were dominate pitchers,” she recalled. “But I knew I wasn’t a pitcher. And I knew I wasn’t ever going to be one. It was really hard coming because everybody expected me to be a good as they were. It was hard to overcome that, but I did. I ended up working really hard and ended up where I wanted.

“They helped me a lot,” Haley added. “They helped me with my confidence problems of course. Every time I would come home complaining about something, they would be like, ‘Get over it. You have the next game. Let’s get ready for the next game. You have to use what happened in the past and build off of it to be strengthened.’”

Ashley and Staci also took their sister to the batting cage to throw her all types of pitches to improve her eye and swing. The other duo always driving Haley around and making sure she got practice in were Steve and Tammy.

“He just told me, ‘You’ll always be my little ball player,’” Haley said of her Dad. “That helped me a lot with them being there for me when I was stressed out about college decisions. It helped me narrow it down.

“They were always there,” she continued. “They didn’t care if I wanted to play ball or not. I ended up playing and I think I made them really happy. They just want to see me happy.”

With the FHU signing, Steve and Tammy went 3 for 3. And they have a special reward coming up during the peak of softball season.

“For us it’s going to allow her and me to spend some time together now,” Steve concluded. “It’s going to free up some family time that we have sacrificed for softball over the years. The hard work has paid off. We’re going to Hawaii this summer.”

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