Karlie Mellott walks to the north end of Sterling's home softball dugout, bat and glove in one hand.
Before exiting, she taps her free hand on the top of the wood railing at the front of the dugout next to the support post.
"This was my spot," Mellott said. "If you were looking for Karlie before a game, this is where I would be sitting."
After spending time with SVM's softball player of the year, it's clear her life since about third grade reads a lot like a flip book made up of a thousand places depicted in vivid detail.
Third grade is when she started playing softball and set her on this path.
Page 1 - In the circle
Let's start in the circle with the white, flat rubber in the middle. It's the place where most youth softball players enter to stand out.
Pitching – just as in the sport's overhand counterpart baseball – is a commodity.
Mellott entered high school splitting time in the circle with then sophomore Stephanie Kester.
Becki Edmondson, who took over head coaching responsibilities for the Sterling Golden Warriors from Rick Henderson this season, was a assistant coach when Mellott entered the program.
"Karlie was such a strategic pitcher," Edmondson said. "You could tell when she was out there that she was calculating what each hitter wanted to do."
Page 2 – New surroundings
After her freshman year, Mellott felt the pressure of being recruited in her first season with the Illinois Chill based out of Northbrook.
Being one of the youngest and smallest, she didn't know yet where she fit.
"I think that time was toughest for me," Mellott said. "The game was so much faster, and I had lost some confidence."
During that summer, she gradually started catching up to the older players, and soon realized that a change was to come.
Page 3 – A winter's day
Edmondson remembers the meeting in February of Mellott's sophomore year.
She brought the coaches together and said that pitching was in her past.
"She felt like it was the best thing for her recruiting," Edmondson said. "I remember being mad at first. We had Stephanie and Priscilla [Aponte], but to have another pitcher of Karlie's quality would have been a huge advantage."
Mellott didn't make the decision lightly.
"I just felt like that I was a good pitcher," Mellott said. "But, I wasn't going to set myself apart that way. Playing with the Chill, I realized how many really good pitchers there are."
Both Edmondson and Mellott admit that during the 3A state semifinal game a return to the circle crossed their minds when Manteno was in the middle of the nine-run second inning.
Instead, freshman Cheyenne Harrington entered the game in the third inning in the stead of classmate Lexy Staples and stayed the ship.
"I would have been rusty," Mellott said. "I've seen something like that happen in travel ball where a girl that hadn't pitched in a long time was forced into that role because of circumstances. It went through my mind, but Cheyenne came in and did an amazing job."
Page 4 – The places inbetween
While it might have been self-preservation to leave the circle, she doesn't deny an attraction to other parts of the field.
The dirt between first and second, and second and third held an allure. It still does.
"I just love playing infield," Mellott said. "It's doesn't matter if it's shortstop or second. I love the challenge of making the plays, and finding ways of getting better. I love developing bonds with the other infielders."
Mellott and Gabby Sandoval, at second, formed a slick-fielding duo up the middle.
"I love Gabby," Mellott said. "I am really going to miss having her beside me."
Page 5 – The left-side box
Mellott's precise with a bat in her hand – a bat she calls her baby.
Stepping over the chalk, she takes two practice hacks that seem to have a little more snap that most others.
She might get a hit. She might strikeout. But her demeanor never changes.
"I've learned that you can't let the result get you too up or down," Mellott said. "If you strikeout, you walk back to the dugout and tell the next girl what the pitcher is doing.
"You have to have that mentality if you're going to make it."
Her numbers are about as good as can be. She's tied for 12th all-time in IHSA history with 225 hits. She had a slugging percentage of .942 this season.
"She's as good a hitter as I've seen around here," Edmondson said. "She's so good at reading defenses. If they are all playing back, she'll square up to bunt. If they move up, she'll pull it back and line it by them."
Page 6 - The open road
Her Illinois Chill teammates find it hard to believe that Mellott's favorite part of being on the team is the 2-hour drive.
She plops behind the driver's seat to go to practice. Her brown hair tied back in a pony tail. She turns on the shuffle on her i-Pod.
Just like in the batter's box, the gears in her mind turn. Instead of thinking about curves and changeups, she's thinking about life and the road ahead.
"That's my favorite time," Mellott said. "I turn the music on and drive. I have everything on my i-Pod. I just love that alone time."
Page 7 – The airport layover
In her junior year, Mellott committed to Purdue. She was stoked to play at a Big Ten school and study engineering at a very good academic institution.
After the 2013 season, Purdue coach Kim Maher was let go. New coach Kim Schuette decided to tell Mellott over phone while Mellott was waiting for a layover flight to Reno that the Boilermakers were no longer interested in her services.
It was the summer before her senior year.
"I have tears in my eyes, and my mom is looking at me," Mellott said. "I was supposed to play in a tournament that weekend. I had no idea what I was going to do."
With teams already filling out rosters and giving away scholarships, Mellott thought her future was in jeopardy.
Page 8 - It happens in Reno
She ended up playing that tournament, and watching was a Cornell University representative.
That started the wheels turning toward the Ivy League.
She made a visit to the university, and things clicked into place.
"Things happen for a reason," Mellott said. "They say the recruiting process goes fast. Well, one door closed for me, and very quickly I was going through another one."
Mellott leaves for Cornell in August. She knows she'll be rooming with a basketball player from PIttsburgh.
"We chatted online some," Mellott said. "All I know is that she is really tall. I am this little thing, and she's really tall. It should be fun."
The next pages - The horizon
The at-bats and ground balls have added up to a spot on a Division I roster.
The car rides and airports played their part too.
"She gave up a lot of being a teenager because she had a goal," Edmondson said. "She went to prom and did things like that, but there was other things that she sacrificed. That's what it takes these days to get to that level."
Mellott knows that softball only goes so far. She'll love playing at Cornell, but knows the books in hand will do more for her than any bat or ball.
There are more places to experience beyond the field, the circle, the box and the dugout. She can't wait to see them.
"I know this education could lead me anywhere," Mellott siad. "I have no idea right now where that will be. It's exciting."