During awards programs at the end of a sports season, coaches encourage their returning athletes to work hard during the offseason.

Shelby Stephens, the Seymour softball team’s catcher, is a huge believer in putting in the extra work after the final out of the high school season.

“One thing I like is during the offseason, it’s always great to catch your pitcher a lot so you end up knowing what their best pitch is or what they go to in tough situations,” Stephens said. “There are a lot of when pitchers have close pitches, and it’s the catcher’s job to bring it in so the umpire does call strike.”

Early in games, Stephens has to judge where the umpire’s strike zone will be from the start.

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“There are multiple times when you have to know where to set up in the perfect spot because the pitcher is always the one that gets the umpire the fastest,” Stephens said.

“There are a lot of times when the framing really comes into the catching position because that helps out the team completely because it can be the bottom of the seventh and you need that strike, and that frame can help you win the game.”

One of the most important things for a catcher is the ability to get the ball out quick after receiving a pitch.

“You have that passed ball to worry about, and our backstop is kind of far (away from the plate),” Stephens said. “There are a lot of times the ball can hit off certain spots and go different angles. I feel like the team usually comes together on defense and we do well.”

Playing behind the plate is different than any other position on the diamond, and Stephens said she likes the pressure.

“It’s a tough position, and I think a lot of people don’t realize how tough it is until they’re either put in a situation or hear about it,” Stephens said. “I love being able to see the field. The catcher sees everything, and I love having to be the loudest, and it’s such an important part of the game. If there is a popup, I try to yell out who should get it to avoid collisions and things like that and just help teammates (know) where to throw.”

During games, Stephens communicates to the pitcher about making adjustments when facing batters the second time through the lineup.

Stephens said her top priority when going to bat is concentration.

“I just try to focus on making contact with the ball,” she said. “There are times when it’s an 0-2 count and you know they’re going to throw a change up. Most of the time, I just try to stay focused on making contact with the ball. Everybody loves a pitch right down the middle.

“As you get older, there are so many locations that a pitcher pitches, and you just have to learn to adjust when you get up to bat. I always have ups and downs throughout the week, but there are a lot of times where I can get a good hit. I definitely love hitting those line drives, at least getting it to the outfield.”

The senior began playing softball when she was 8, then moved onto travel teams before moving up to high school.

“It’s always been my favorite sport,” Stephens said. “I tried different sports in elementary. Softball always stuck with me. I just loved playing when I was little and when I grew up.”

During the past three years, Stephens has acted as the Owls’ regular catcher.

For Stephens, practices play an important role in the growth of the team.

“Practice is always a big thing for us, especially working on the mistakes we’ve made,” Stephens said. “We can stop and have it explained to us. You always have to make it count. You have to be serious about it. We have to realize this is what’s going to help us win games.”

Stephens also is a member of the softball leadership group.

“Through the leadership group, we talk about what will best help out the team, how our leadership can help the team, just stuff that a team captain would do,” she said. “I feel for the seniors, it is our year to show how. There are a lot of times through our leadership we’ve learned how to push our teammates.”

On the diamond

Parents: Greg and Michelle Stephens

Sibling: Zach

Sport: Softball 4 years

Athletics highlights: Receiving the step up award in 2012 and the mental attitude award in 2013

Attending SHS: “I love the atmosphere of it. I love the teachers. The teachers are always helping us, and when I first came in, it was always nice and it’s always been a great environment to be part of.”

Organization: Latin Club

Plans: Attend Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus and study special education

Favorite away field: Bedford North Lawrence

Favorite food: Sushi

Favorite TV show: “Revenge”

Favorite team: Denver Broncos

Favorite book: “Divergent”

Favorite quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” — Dr. Seuss

Jordan Morey is sports editor at The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at jmorey@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.