Athlete of the Week: Lefty Lembcke lifts Lady Panthers

Carolina Forest senior Rachel Lembcke knows her high school softball career is almost over, but she’s doing her best to make sure the Lady Panthers keep playing as long as possible.

The Mammy’s Kitchen Athlete of the Week pitched Carolina Forest to a pair of playoff victories last week, allowing only four hits over 17 shutout innings.

The Lady Panthers (18-2) are one win away from the district title and Lower State tournament with their eyes focused on a Class AAAA state championship.

“Coach (Sarah Minchew) always says, ‘Play hard, work hard, no regrets’ and I try to feed off that everyday,” Lembcke said. “Especially in the playoffs, one game can be your last. You can’t play softball forever, so I’m trying to make the most of it.”

So far so good for Lembcke and her teammates, many of whom have been playing together since their Little League days. Minchew says it makes her job easy to have a group of seniors like Lembcke leading the way.

“Rachel is an amazing student-athlete,” Minchew said. “She works very hard and always has a positive attitude. She is the type of player that any coach would want to have. She is always smiling and encouraging her teammates and has remarkable leadership skills.”

As much as Lembcke has helped her team with her arm, the hard-throwing left-hander’s biggest contribution may come when she isn’t in the lineup. Splitting time with freshman Emily Merriam, Lembcke displays her unselfishness by being the team’s biggest supporter in the dugout.

“Coach tells us both to warm up and then she doesn’t tell us who is going to start until 5 minutes before the game,” Lembcke said. “But it doesn’t matter who gets the start, we all cheer for each other to do well and for the team to win.”

In fact, Lembcke waited her time while Merriam had the hot hand earlier in the season, but the senior has been getting the ball in clutch situations lately. She even relieved Merriam in an extra-inning victory last week to earn her first save of the season.

On Saturday, she allowed only three hits against Ashley Ridge before the Lady Panthers rallied to win 2-1 in the 10th inning. Earlier in the week she pitched a one-hit shutout against Lugoff-Elgin, stepping up her game at the most critical time of year.

“I definitely feel like I play better under pressure, but the approach is always the same,” she said. “The big thing is knowing if one of us makes a mistake or has a bad game, we’ve got each other to pick it up whether it’s on offense, defense or pitching.”

Lembcke attributes much of Carolina Forest’s success to the sort of team unity she exemplifies. She and the group of seniors have been playing softball together since their Pony Tail days, and they’re trying to make their time together last all the way to the state title.

“We’ve played together for a long time so there’s some strong chemistry there,” she said. “It would be awesome to win it all in our last year together. That would be a memory that would last a lifetime.”

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