Perfect Union: Combination of skills, faith and natural abilities help Rice land in Jackson

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

The life of Tipton-Rosemark Academy’s Charli Rice is a trinity. 

Three major phases that shape her everyday activities are her faith, music and softball. From the day she was 2-years-old singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’ at Oak Grove Baptist Church in Covington alongside her parents Christa and David, Charli was in love with music. 

She spent years traveling with her parent’s Christian singing quartet before transitioning over to her favorite sport softball. Spending a decade developing her pitching skills in softball, Rice matured into a desirable student/athlete for Union University. 

On April 7 in the TRA Gymnasium in front of friends, family, teammates, coaches and special guests, Rice made it official with her signature on her letter of intent. 

“I get to pursuit my ministry through music and play softball,” Rice said. “This is like a great union for me going to Union.” 

Rice will join the Lady Bulldogs and play in the Gulf South Conference for Head Coach Mackenzie Sher. Union Softball is based in Jackson and plays in the NCAA Division II.

Rice will also be spending a lot of her time on campus in the Music Department. The Department of Music at Union University explores a student’s musical gifts to exalt God, inspire others and honor the Lord Jesus Christ. Faculty are professional musicians and dedicated teachers, passionately committed to Christ-centered excellence. 

“She’s multi-talented and that’s why she’s going to Union,” TRA Head Coach Johnie Sanfratello said. 

Sanfratello came to know Rice while she was in middle school. 

After hearing positive things about her pitching skills from some of his current players, the Rice family paid a visit to TRA and Charli requested a “tryout.” 

“When she threw the first pitch, I was like ‘Absolutely, I think she made the team,’” Sanfratello recalled. 

In addition to pitching, Rice was good with the bat wearing the Lady Rebel uniform. Her career stats on the day of her signing April 7 were 131 games played. She batted .353 with 126 hits. She is top 5 all time in doubles with 26. She had 5 home runs and 93 RBIs. 

With her glove at first base and in the circle, her fielding percentage was .925. Only 15 errors during that time. 

But her calling card of pitching has her among the best ever to do it in Rosemark like Rachel Whitley, Roxanna Kimes, Ashton Needham and the TRA Godmother of the Circle Lyndsey Sterling.

Now Rice is among those greats with an 1.52 ERA, 57 wins and 623 strikeouts. She has won 75 percent of her games for the Lady Rebels. Rice has won 144 games since joining TRA.

Through it all her biggest fan in the dugout has been her toughest critic as well.

“Her and my opinions might differ a little,” Sanfratello said. “If I have a chance to get onto her about something, I’m get onto her. It could be anything. Only because I know she can be good. She’s one of those special ones. You want her to succeed because you know she’s not giving her best effort. 

“I am really on her all the time,” he continued. “Ii really give her too much slack. She might say, ‘He gives me no slack. I just know what she’s capable of doing. I know she could be great. I just wanted to stay on her to let her know what she has inside of her. She’s done phenomenal here.”

Rice’s dad David said his daughter living up to the expectations and being one of the top 5 pitchers in TRA history took hours of practice.

“It’s made all the days worth it,” he said. “One thing about a pitcher’s dad, one thing you have to spend is what I call ‘Bucket Time.’ Bucket Time is all those hours of practice you’ve got to put in to get her to the level you see her at right now. 

“She never minded it and now she’s done it,” David added. “It’s paid off and all of it was worth it. Think about this, spending time with your child every weekend. How good is that? It’s great. We’ve spent a lot of time. We’ve show a lot of the country and we were right be her side every step.”

David noted life with his baby girl has been a trade off. She joined him and wife Christa as they performed their passion. Then it was there turn to support Charli chasing her dream.

“She grew up singing really early,” he recalled. “Her mom and I sing. And her mom is a really good singer. She and I were in a quartet. Charli went on the road with us everywhere for four years. She was right there with us the whole time. She did that part of her life. 

“And that’s one of those things that makes me really proud because that’s what she’s going into,” he continued. “She wants to go to Union for her ministry. She’s really good it because she’s into praise dance, singing in the choir at the church.”

Christa and David returned the favor to Charli with hours on the road, weekend tournaments and countless conversations about the game. David said that investment helped his daughter reach her dream and move close to her calling in life. 

“That’s all you can pray for,” David explained. “I’ve always prayed for her to do something that for her. I just want her to be who she is. And it’s so important to be who you are because so many people are not. She is what you see 100 percent of the time. No more than you can ask for. I am so happy that it is unbelievable.”

Sanfratello said Rice’s legacy will be greater that softball and will impact many others. But before she wraps up her playing days, he wants her to add another legendary chapter to her Rosemark career.

“Looking back at ‘18 and we were runner-up, she was there and she knows that feeling,” he recalled. “I hope that is enough to push her and push us to that next level. That would be a great cap to be in the State championship. She was a freshman that year and it was probably a big moment for her. She had that eighth grade year under belt but it was probably still too big of a moment for her. 

“That team she wasn’t counted on to be any kid of leader,” Sanfratello concluded. “She was there to pitch and hitting when Rachel was pitching. ‘He wasn’t for me to be any kind of leader.’ Now she has an opportunity. She knows what it is like to get there and now get it. Hopefully that could translate to her leading and pushing these kids to get there and win it all.”