|Watson gives more than a Hoot about her teammates|
|Bobby "Butch" Burney | News-Telegram Sports Editor|
March 12, 2004 -- When talking about Sulphur Springs senior pitcher Hollie Watson, one can get bogged down in statistics: an ERA well under 1.00, a pitching record of 5-1-1, a First Team All-District selection in 2003.
Those are impressive enough, but her teammates and coaches will tell you there's a lot more to Hollie than stats -- there's a deeper side that, combined with her on-field talents, makes her so valuable to the chemistry of the team.
"Her leadership and her caring attitude about the whole team is one of her best characteristics and features," said head coach John McCullough, who like the rest of her family and friends calls Watson by her nickname, Hoot. "She's one of those that genuinely cares about everyone on the team. There's nothing fake about her. She's always asking how everyone's doing, and she writes little notes to everybody before games to keep them pepped up."
Watson, who has a younger sister, Hailey, playing on the junior varsity, said she has been playing with most of her teammates for so long that she considers them all to be family. Albeit, a family that right now is 10-3-1 with a tournament championship under its belt.
"We've been playing together for many years, and they're just like sisters," she explained. "We pull for each other. We're there for each other. I love this team, they're all real dear."
And Watson has been dearly welcomed on the mound. In 45 innings this season, she has given up just four earned runs for an ERA of 0.62. She has struck out 33 while giving up just 27 hits.
She's tied for the team lead in doubles with five, and is also second on the team with seven RBIs while batting .238.
When not pitching, she plays first base and dug out a couple of throws in the dirt in the Lady Cats' recent win over Mount Pleasant. But, it's on the mound that she has earned her reputation as a hard-throwing, dominating player who will sign a college softball scholarship next month.
"In the circle, she has the ability to be completely dominant," McCullough said. "She's thrown a couple of no-hitters and a perfect game for us in her high school career. She's unbeaten in district.
"She has the capability to be completely unhittable, just dominant."
The Lady Cats' success is predicated on the pitching of Watson and classmate Melissa McSheffery and the defense behind them. It's her teammates, Watson said, who give her the confidence to unleash her fastball, for which she is best known.
"Being out there, I'm real comfortable with the defense behind me, so I know that I can throw it as hard as I can, and if they hit it, I know my team will be back there," she explained. "I'd rather pitch than play anywhere else. That's my comfort zone. That's where I'm most comfortable being."
She started taking pitching lessons at age 10, joined a traveling team and focused on softball as her sport of choice, though she still plays volleyball, earning Honorable Mention All-District as a setter this past varsity season.
In softball, the Lady Cats are the defending district champions, not having lost a district game in over three years. This senior group will be trying to go 40-0 in loop games for their careers. They are also striving to become the first SSHS team to make it past the third round of the state playoffs.
They are preparing for it by playing a brutal pre-district schedule that includes some of the top tournaments in Northeast Texas and individual games against playoff teams like Mesquite Poteet, Corsicana and Frisco.
"We think to be the best, you have to beat the best. The teams we saw last weekend are all ranked in the metroplex and picked to be in the playoffs," Watson said. "We want to prepare against those kinds of teams when we go into district so we can be 40-0 and go past the third round of the playoffs.
"We need to practice hard and pretty much be together and work together, and play hard."
McCullough said it's that attitude that gives them a good chance.
"This team has done a great job of pulling together and playing together as a team," he explained. "Everyone's unselfish. Their ultimate goal is the district championship and to get to Austin, and they know that unless everyone is doing their best, it's not going to happen. So, they continuously pull for each other to do great things.
"Hollie's a big part of that. She's a very special young lady. She does everything she can to make sure everybody's getting along and in a good mood and really ready to play."
But how about that nickname? Where did Hoot come from?
"I really don't know the answer to that question," Hollie said. "My dad (Steve Watson) started calling me that when I was real little. I guess it's because I couldn't pronounce my name and it just went from there.
"But, Hoot. That's me. That's just who I am."