End of an era: Kevin Carlton steps aside after 13 years at the helm | Prep softball

High fives have been a familiar sight during Coach Kevin Carlton 13 years at the helm of the Friday Harbor softball program. “It was a great run

Timing is everything in the game of fastpitch softball.

At the plate, a pitch must be accurately timed so a batter can deliver that crucial base hit or advance a runner with a well-placed bunt.

On the base path, there’s a time to run and a time to stay. In the field, there’s little time for indecision when the ball is hit your way.

And in the dugout, the person calling the shots must decide when to send a pinch-hitter to the plate, put a substitute on the mound, put the squeeze-play into action and, ultimately, when it’s time to step aside.

Which is what long-time Friday Harbor softball coach Kevin Carlton has done.

After 13 years at the helm of one of the school’s most successful athletic programs, Carlton announced last week to his players and school officials that he would be stepping down as head coach.

“Having to tell the kids was really, really tough,” Carlton said. “This last group of kids, from the seniors through the sophomores and all the way to the freshmen was the greatest group of kids I’ve ever had. It was a great run and the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”

That decision comes on the heels of one of the team’s most dramatic and successful seasons.

Mired in a mid-season slump, the 2011 Wolverines righted the ship on the eve of post-season play, dominated five consecutive opponents, clinched a first-ever Tri-District championship and sealed the team’s first berth in the 1A state tournament since realignment of the region’s 1A schools pitted the Wolverines against the likes of Lynden Christian, Merdian, Nooksack Valley for a berth at State.

Carlton, harbor master for Roche Harbor Resort by day, cited a desire to spend more time with family and the upcoming birth of a grandson, a first for the Carlton household, as his main reasons for stepping down.

In addition to this season’s berth at State, the Wolverines made four consecutive appearances at the state 1A tournament, from 2003 to 2006, with Carlton at the helm.

He proved adept both in helping the Wolverines achieve success on the field and in having fun while playing the game, Athletic Director Rod Turnbull said

“It’s a tremendous loss for our program because Kevin is such a quality coach,” Turnbull said. “Besides  the winning and losing, the kids loved to play for him. That’s the mark of a quality coach.”

In the end, Carlton said he leaves the field of play a richer man and with a treasure chest of memories on and off the field.

“I got back 10 times what I gave.”