For most high school baseball players, their senior season is a carefree time to play a game they love with their closest friends and maybe, if they're good enough, make one last run at a state championship. It is a time to reflect upon the camaraderie with teammates and enjoy the last few months of high school; with thoughts of looking forward to prom and graduation dancing in your head.
For Gold Beach's Dustin Carter, this season has taken on an entirely different meaning. A meaning that nobody, especially a young man on the cusp of life after high school, should have to burden.
Dustin's older brother, Josh Carter, himself a standout athlete and former Gold Beach graduate, passed away on April 12 as a result of injuries sustained in a motor vehicle accident near Scottsburg.
It would be perfectly understandable if Dustin decided to sit the rest of the season out to grieve and mourn over his lost sibling, and not one person would question him for that.
Dustin, however, wanted to continue playing, not only to be there for his team, but because he wanted to play in honor of his brother.
"I like to be around my teammates and friends and get my mind off it, at the same time it's still there," said the senior right-hander after his Panthers completed a doubleheader sweep of Lost River. "I know that every game I play in is for my brother. Everything that happens in the games I pretty much dedicate to him."
Showing resiliency uncharacteristic in ayoung man his age, Carter has not only played well since his brother's untimely passing, he has excelled.
Just days after the accident, Carter threw 12 strikeouts in a no-hitter over the Coquille Red Devils in the first game of a doubleheader, then pitched three innings of superb relief to earn the win in the second game of the twin bill. Carter's efforts were honored as he was nominated for "Player of the Week" by The Oregonian newspaper.
For Carter, baseball has become therapeutic; a way for him to be surrounded by a support system that relies on him as much as he relies on them, and for him to focus on a sport he loves.
"If I let my mind wander I'll start getting depressed and it would be worse," said Carter regarding how baseball has helped him cope with his feelings. "If I come out and just focus on throwing strikes and focus on throwing the ball in the mitt then things go well."
Carter and his teammates are lookingto finish the season strong. After the sweep of Lost River on Thursday they have seven games remaining on the schedule and are a half-game ahead of Bonanza for first place in the 2A/1A-SD5 league.
Entering Thursday's games, Carter sported a 2.38 ERA and leads the team with 30 strikeouts in 17-2/3 innings of work. He has also been a terror at the plate, hitting .355 with a home run and 11 RBIs for a Gold Beach team that has a .344 team batting average this season.
All signs point to Gold Beach making a deep playoff run and possibly earning a shot at a state title, with both Dustin and Josh playing a big part in it.