Senior leads Vikings, the nation at the plate
Senior shortstop Sarah Kennedy may be considered soft-spoken, but on the softball field she carries a big stick.
Kennedy earned the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Player of the Week honors three times this season. With a batting average of .523 and slugging percentage of .953, it’s no small wonder why.
“She’s just a really good softball player,” head coach Gretta Melsted said. “She should be a hall of famer here some day, I would think, and she’s a good kid, too. It’s unique because of how good she is that she’s so quiet and unassuming, it’s really rare.”
Kennedy almost didn’t play at Augustana. Melsted only found her by a chance encounter late in Kennedy’s senior year of high school.
“Sarah [is] a really interesting story of how she fell into our lap, actually,” Melsted said. “Usually we’re done recruiting ahead of time. When we were done recruiting her it was 2012, and normally we have things done very early with seniors in the fall. [At that time] my assistant coach Mike Mook happened to go down to Kansas City, and he was actually leaving the park when someone said ‘Hey you have to go watch this team, go watch this kid,’ and that’s how we found Sarah. It was very, very by chance she flew under the radar by far.”
Kennedy only thought she would have a slim chance to ever play Division II softball.
“[Playing collegiate softball] really wasn’t on my radar until I was probably a junior in high school,” Kennedy said. “I had some friends that had signed for other Division II schools, and I think at that point I kind of realized I might actually be able to play. I mean I thought I would be able to play at a local community college, but not at this level.”
By the fall of Kennedy’s senior year, she had a few college visits, including one to NSIC rival Winona State. None stood out to her. During her last tournament in Kansas City she met Mook, and things moved quickly from there.
“I think about a week later Coach Melsted gave me a call,” Kennedy said. “Augustana, was never on my radar because it’s seven hours away. Everything she listed off about the school appealed to me, great softball program, Lutheran school,—I really wanted to go a Christian affiliated college,—[it’s] small, and then I knew it was great academically. So it [went from the] stress of not really knowing where I was going, to ‘this is it.’”
Melsted believes that she has stood out as an excellent leader for the team since then. Through April 23 (43 games), Kennedy lead Division II in batting average (.523), doubles (26), and total bases (142).
“Sarah’s numbers are phenomenal,” Melsted said. “People don’t really understand, her four years here she’s done some amazing things. Her batting average as a freshman was .373 and 75 hits, sophomore year she hit .470 with 101 hits on the season, she was a first team All-American and she lead the country in batting average for almost the entire season. Last year it was .403 on 72 hits. She’s just one of the absolute best hitters in the country.”
But being one of the best hitters in the country does have its disadvantages, including opponents trying to pitch around her, but she has adapted.
“Here’s the crazy thing, she’s putting those numbers up, she doesn’t get pitches to hit,” Melsted said. “They don’t pitch to her. She’s hitting bad pitches because they are pitching to her so far outside. Her freshman year she liked to just place the [practice] tee like it was a down-the-middle pitch, swing and feel good. She started learning and this year she places the tee so it’s pretty much in the other batter’s box.”
Some may be hindered by getting pitched to out of the zone, but Kennedy turned it into a learning opportunity for a skill she wasn’t very good at.
“It is a little frustrating sometimes when you know they don’t want to pitch to you,” Kennedy said. “It’s pretty obvious that no one wants to pitch to me. I mean that’s the whole point of practicing the way I do because I know I’m not going to see [down the middle pitches], but I’m going to make them pay for pitching to me outside…I never used to be good at outside pitches, but now it’s pretty much all I get, so it made me get better and work on something I needed to get better at.”
Melsted believes Kennedy will continue being leader [as her career comes to an end].
“What Sarah brings to this team is that she really has a good understanding of what it takes to be in a regional tournament,” Melsted said. “I think that’s one of the biggest things that she helps impart her knowledge to everyone on the team, the younger ones on the team, because it’s really hard for some of the freshmen, even sophomores, the ones who haven’t played in a regional tournament, to really understand the level that you really have to be at.”
As the season winds down Kennedy will only have a four more games to help fight for the team’s spot in the NSIC Tournament. Friday they will be up against Minnesota Duluth and Saturday, St. Cloud State. Augustana is standing in third place, after this weekend only time will tell if the team is ready for the NCAA Championships.