It was a dream come true for Mattie Mentel.
Mentel, a senior softball player at Oconee County High School, reached a milestone last Wednesday when she signed a scholarship to continue her career at Western Carolina.
The Lady Warriors’ catcher celebrated her scholarship signing surrounded by family, coaches, friends and OCHS teammates, including Avery Mercer and Chloe Middlebrooks, who signed scholarships of their own.
The moment was a long time coming for Mentel. She began believing in her ability to play at the next level when she found success playing in travel leagues several years ago.
“I've loved softball for as long as I can remember but travel ball really did it for me,” Mentel said. “Just playing those good teams, going to California, Colorado, getting that kind of level and seeing myself be able to perform in that really made it come true.”
That success in competitive atmospheres set Mentel on the course for a collegiate opportunity.
She worked toward that individual goal while achieving collective success with the Lady Warriors. When it was time to make it official last week, Mentel said she was ready to sign all the necessary papers and solidify her future plans.
“It was honestly like a sigh of relief,” she said. “I have nothing left to worry about. Just a few months and I'll be up there.”
Warriors coach Zack Graham just finished his first season leading the OCHS program.
Though he only got to work with Mentel for one season, Graham said her affect on the team is undeniable.
Mentel powered the Lady Warriors when she rejoined the team after a brief absence mid-season, Graham said.
“Without Mattie and the rest of these seniors and everybody stepping up, this season wouldn't have been as successful,” Graham told the crowd at last week’s ceremony. “We took a little drop when Mattie had to leave us for a little bit with some COVID stuff. When she came back, she came back on fire. ... Mattie had a great year with us and we're looking forward to what she does at Western Carolina.”
Mentel had five multi-hit games during her senior campaign, two of which were in the state playoffs. She had six games with at least two runs batted in.
Her 23 total RBIs were the best on the team, as were her eight doubles. Mentel’s .344 batting average was fourth-best among the Lady Warriors.
Mentel posted the second-best slugging percentage on the team (.547) as well as the team’s second-best OPS (.990).
Though she is undecided on what she will study, Mentel is excited for what lies ahead at Western Carolina.
A big part of the reason she feels that way is due to the familiarity she felt when visiting the program’s head coach, Jim Clift.
Clift reminded Mentel of her stepfather, Bruno Scarborough, who coached her for nine years of travel ball.
“I just really love the coaching staff up there,” Mentel said. “The atmosphere that they created for me made me feel like they wanted me just as much as I wanted them. I knew it was a mutual decision. I felt like that would be the best fit for me.”
Scarborough was there to celebrate last week, as was Mentel’s mother, Carrie Scarborough, and father Wally Mentel.
They were flanked by extended family members and other friendly faces. The turnout of supporters reminded Mentel how they and others had her back throughout her softball journey.
“It's pretty awesome to just know that I have all of these people that have been cheering me on from the very beginning since Little League,” she said. “They've all been here for me through everything. Through the ups and downs, they've all helped me get to where I am today.”
As for the career she leaves behind, Mentel said it is a “bittersweet” process saying goodbye to OCHS softball.
That’s because of the high levels of success she and her teammates achieved. They reached the Elite Eight round of the playoffs or better three out of four times, including a Final Four run this year. The 2020 season also brought a region title.
Regardless of who is leaving after graduation, Mentel sees big things ahead for the Lady Warriors.
“I know that I'm going to do great things but it's just sad seeing all my friends, the girls that I grew up with, that I'm leaving them all behind,” Mentel said. “But I know they're all going to do great things here.”