HATTON — Walking out of the weight room in Hatton High's gymnasium, Hillary Carpenter leaned against the wall and took a few minutes to relax.
For Carpenter, down time like this is at a premium. From school to volleyball to cheerleading — and the never-ending cycle of her softball career — Carpenter's daily schedule is loaded with responsibility.
Ever since Carpenter was an elementary school student, her life has revolved around softball, and that won't change after she graduates from Hatton in the spring. Carpenter, a left-handed pitcher, signed a National Letter of Intent with NCAA Division II North Alabama on Friday afternoon.
Carpenter was one of two local softball standouts to sign a National Letter of Intent on Friday. Athens shortstop Whitney Jordan signed with Lipscomb.
Hatton outfielder Victoria Crumpton plans to sign a National Letter of Intent with Alabama-Huntsville on Monday.
Carpenter is one of the most decorated softball players to ever come out of the area. She was the MVP for three straight Class 2A state championship teams from 2010-12, and was selected as the Alabama Sports Writers Association's Class 2A Player of the Year in 2011 and 2012.
So why UNA? Carpenter said she labored over the decision, picking the Lions over perennial junior-college power Wallace State.
"After the season, I was pretty sure that I was going to Wallace State, but after UNA hired (new coach Jason Anderson), I got invited to a camp in Florence," Carpenter said. "That's when they offered me (a scholarship).
"A lot of thought was put into this decision, but after talking to my parents, this just felt right. I like the school. I like the coaching staff. Everything just felt right. Now I'm looking forward to getting this opportunity. I'm excited to see what playing college softball is about."
Carpenter, The Decatur Daily's Class 1A-3A softball player of the year from 2010-12, finished last season with a 33-6 record and a 1.10 ERA. She also hit .405 with five home runs.
Proximity also played a role in Carpenter's decision.
"I'm still going to live at home while I go to school there," she said. "Being close to home is one of the good things about this."
Hatton coach John Smith said Carpenter won't have any problems adjusting to college softball.
"Hillary is the type of person, she wants to excel. She wants to be the best," Smith said. "I believe she will help right away. Everybody has to have a good surrounding cast, and she's had that here, but I'm a big believer in Hillary."
With an all-star lineup returning, Hatton likely will enter the 2013 season as the favorite to win the program's fourth straight 2A state title. The Hornets have six players who either have college offers or have given commitments. Four of those are with junior colleges: Carey Grace Peebles (Wallace State-Hanceville), Hannah Harper (Wallace State-Hanceville), Danya Snead (Snead State) and Boston Claborn (Snead State).
Crumpton, a speedy center fielder, is a key piece to that puzzle. She hit .480 last season, finishing with five triples and 63 stolen bases.
"Victoria, the sky is the limit for that girl. ... She's got all the tools to be a great player at the next level," Smith said. "Victoria is the complete package."
Until high school softball season starts up again, Carpenter said she wants to enjoy her final basketball season as a cheerleader, making sure to carve time for softball preparation into that busy schedule.
"It's all gone by so fast," Carpenter said. "But it's been a lot of fun. I just want to make the most of this last year. I think we all do."
Athens' Jordan has been one of the area's most prolific players since her freshman season in 2010, when she helped the Golden Eagles win the Class 5A state title.
Last season as a junior, Jordan hit .364 with seven home runs. She was a first-team selection on The Decatur Daily's Class 4A-6A all-area softball team.
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