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Four-year standout Casey Stangel will continue her softball career at the University of Missouri next season. (Kathy Plonka)

Grip on success

Lake City pitching star Stangel still has plenty of goals in mind

Casey Stangel’s father tried to put into perspective his daughter’s approach to life.

When it finally hit him after an interview, he called the reporter back to explain.

“Whether it’s doing her homework, talking with a friend, playing a game or practicing, whatever Casey is doing at the time, it is the most important thing to her,” Chris Stangel said.

Chris and his wife, Debi, have much to be proud of when it comes to their daughter. The Lake City standout fastpitch pitcher – named, yes, after the former major-league player/manager whose last name is spelled similarly – is in the final season of a stellar career.

The city of Coeur d’Alene has had its share of outstanding fastpitch players the past two decades. An argument could be made that Stangel is the best yet.

A four-year starter, the left-handed Stangel is 67-9 overall, 2-0 this season, with a career ERA of 0.606. She was 26-0 as a sophomore when the Timberwolves captured a state championship.

Equally impressive are her hitting statistics. She’s a career .518 hitter (128 hits in 247 at-bats) with 26 home runs.

She’ll leave LC owning most of the school records.

Her coach, Laura Tolzmann, knows exactly her place in area history.

“She’s the highest-caliber athlete to come through the area,” Tolzmann said. “I’ll probably never coach another athlete like her.”

Stangel is the complete package on and off the field. She carries a 3.86 grade-point average, is heavily involved in school government and activities and cares deeply for her teammates and classmates.

About all that her father will take credit for is the fact that his and his wife’s genes are in his daughter. Chris had a brief pro baseball career and Debi played soccer at UCLA.

He says that Casey is Casey because of Casey. He emphasized his point with an anecdote.

Chris had just come home from a 12-hour graveyard shift as a policeman when Casey was 4 years old. She asked her dad if he would take her training wheels off her bike.

He was weary from his shift and needed to get to bed for the next shift later in the day.

“I said, ‘Honey, let me get a bowl of cereal and go to bed and I’ll take them off later,’ ” Dad recalled.

So he’s eating his cereal when he hears some screaming and laughter outside. He looks outside the kitchen window and he sees Casey riding her bike, falling down, yelling, laughing and getting up to do the routine again. Then all of a sudden she’s riding without a glitch.

Casey had gone into the garage, found a wrench and taken off the wheels herself.

Self-starter, self-driven, self-motivated. You get the picture.

She continues to be all of those things and more.

Casey says her dad was all about her older brother, Emmitt, until she decided in the sixth grade to play softball only.

“That totally turned him,” she said. “Now he’s all softball. My dad is easily my best friend. He’s my coach.”

Almost immediately as a sixth-grader Stangel started making a name for herself in summer ball. In eighth grade, schools started sending her recruiting letters, including Notre Dame.

Then the summer following her freshman year, she inadvertently caught the attention of her future college coach.

Missouri coach Ehren Earleywine was walking past a field in Denver, Colo., when he heard a pop. It was the sound of a hard-thrown ball hitting a catcher’s mitt. The thrower was Stangel.

So he stopped, watched and was captivated. He called Stangel’s travel team coach after the game and the coach put Stangel on the phone.

After spending a few minutes talking with Earleywine, she was convinced Missouri was the school for her.

Despite the fact that most major schools – including Washington, UCLA, Oklahoma, Texas – were starting to recruit her.

She signed her letter of intent in November.

She has a long list of goals pasted to a mirror in her bathroom. Among those goals is to win an NCAA championship; be SEC player of the year her freshman season; break several Missouri school records; be an academic All-American; make the U.S. national team.

To that end, Stangel wanted to be prepared for Missouri when she arrives. So she talked to her college pitching coach and he told her she needed to overhaul her pitching style.

That meant more of an emphasis on rise balls, drop balls and changeups and less on throwing hard. Change of speeds and location were critical, too.

She started the makeover last year. LC finished 22-2, advancing to the state final for a second straight year before losing to crosstown rival CdA.

“I hated everything about last year and it had nothing to do with losing the state championship game,” Stangel said. “For whatever reason, even after we won the state title the year before, I felt I had something to prove. I had these unrealistic expectations of myself. Consequently I didn’t have fun.”

She expects the fun to return this year, especially since she’s in the second year of her pitching facelift.

Stangel has a motto she lives by.

“To be the best you have to outwork everybody else,” she said.