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Mendota senior Ashlyn Kennedy (left) throws a pitch during a game last season at St. Bede. Kennedy ranks in the top 10 in the area in nine of 10 statistical categories this spring. NewsTribune file photo/Amanda Whitlock
MENDOTA — Balance beams, balanced checkbooks and a balanced diet have nothing on Mendota’s Ashlyn Kennedy.
So far this season, the Lady Trojans’ star has been the area’s most-balanced player.
A four-year varsity player, Kennedy has excelled both in the pitching circle and at the plate.
With only a week left in the small-school regular season, Kennedy is in the area’s top 10 in nine of 10 statistical categories — six hitting and three pitching.
“They definitely go hand-in-hand with each other because you have to help yourself out,” said Kennedy of her pitching and hitting prowess. “If they get a run against you, then you have to get a run yourself by hitting. It kind of balances itself out.”
Kennedy has done a little of everything this spring.
In 54 at-bats, she is hitting .481 — top two in the area — with an area-leading eight doubles to go with 17 RBIs, 10 extra-base hits and 18 runs scored, all while posting a 7-7 record on the rubber with an impressive 1.93 ERA and 91 strikeouts in 83 innings pitched.
“Ashlyn has improved tremendously this year,” MHS coach Joel Perez said. “She went out and got a couple more pitches. She developed a curveball to add to her other three pitches. She’s just been a more consistent pitcher than she has been in the past.
“Hitting-wise, she leads the team in hits and in batting average and was leading in RBIs until recently. Offensively, we’ve had a few coaches come over to me and say, ‘Man, we can’t get her out. We’ve pitched her inside and outside.’”
A self-prescribed slow starter at the plate, Kennedy has been on fire from the start and hasn’t let up.
This spring, her batting average has hovered around .500 as she has hit in the No. 3 spot in the Lady Trojans’ lineup.
“I worked on hitting a lot more last summer,” said Kennedy, who played ASA softball last year with the Starved Rock Bandits. “I played with the L-P girls a lot more and they are really good hitters, too, so that really pushed me to want to get better. I would be like, ‘Oh, well, they are all 4-for-4 so I need to go 4-for-4’ so I would focus a lot harder and push myself a lot harder to be better.”
This season in the circle, Kennedy — who has been the MHS ace for the past three years — has worked to refine her pitches.
“This year I think I’ve really matured as a pitcher,” said Kennedy, who will play next season at Carthage College. “I’ve tried to focus a lot harder than I did last year. I’ve been going to a pitching coach and we just harp about every pitch being perfect. What I’ve really been trying to do is take every pitch individually and make it perfect every time.”
She did just that earlier this season when Kennedy threw her first career no-hitter against Byron.
“Pitching-wise, I’ve had more control with all my pitches than I’ve had in any of my other years,” she said. “My speed has stayed about the same, but I’ve had more movement, which has helped a lot.”
Despite her 7-7 record, Perez feels Kennedy should have more wins if not for a Mendota defense that has struggled this spring.
“What I have noticed about Ashlyn is that she’s been more of a leader this year,” Perez said. “In the past, she may have gotten upset with somebody who might’ve made an error or didn’t get a key hit. This year, she is more of a leader who tends to say, ‘Hey, it happens. Let’s move on.’”
With just a week left before small-school regionals, Kennedy hopes to continue her balanced play.
With her well-round success, at which does Kennedy feel she is better? “I really couldn’t choose,” she said. “I’m not sure. But a no-hitter against a home run? I’d definitely pick a no-hitter.”
Jared Bell can be reached at 220-6938, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsJared.
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