Late-game comebacks have become hair-raising routine at Kenton Ridge High School, where the cool-headed Cougars refuse to panic.
Forging blue-collar wins from big-bat innings is what this nerves-of-steel squad does best.
“I don’t know what that is about us, but hey, it’s kind of a good thing,” outfielder Learic Kinser said with a mischievous laugh. “We don’t get down on ourselves, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“But oh my gosh. Our assistant coach (Dave Stump) almost has a heart attack every single time.”
Often during the past two years, especially at Ed Foulk Field, fastpitch softball’s defending Division II state runners-up have whipped early deficits into defeats for exasperated opponents.
Tough out Kinser is a big reason why.
The fleet, 5-foot-5 junior pesters area pitchers with a bunt-slap-hit bag of tricks that’s difficult to keep off the bases.
“She’s that triple threat. It’s just so important for her to get on,” said Kenton Ridge coach Sarah Schalnat, whose Cougars (25-2, 14-2) clinched their second Central Buckeye Conference, Kenton Trail Division title outright last week after Bellefontaine handed Shawnee (22-3, 13-3) an extra-inning loss.
Kinser’s batting a team-high .547 in the leadoff spot (fifth-best in the league) with seven doubles, three triples, 18 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.
Hitting from the left side gives the natural-born right-hander a two-step advantage on infielders, but the mastery didn’t come without work.
“When I was 10, my hitting coach (Glen Widner of the Columbus Lady Lasers) made everyone bat left-handed,” Kinser said. “By the time I was 11 or 12, he’d switched me to completely left-handed.
“He told me, ‘You’ll never see the right side of the plate again’ and I didn’t argue about it. He hasn’t steered me wrong yet.”
Sporting a .594 on-base percentage and errorless in center field (43 putouts, five assists), Kinser, 17, has verbally committed to play at NAIA Urbana University on an 80-percent scholarship.
Nicknamed “Cosmo,” Kinser plans to major in athletic training and chose Urbana over Division II Ashland because the school agreed to manage her required clinical hours around the travel demands of her sport.
Now, she can focus on the postseason.
Top-seeded Kenton Ridge opened D-II tournament play with a 38-0 thrashing of 12th-seeded Meadowdale and hosts No. 13 Trotwood-Madison at 5 p.m. today.
“I have higher standards this year, tournament-wise,” Kinser said. “We lost a really key player in Paige (McCrary, KR’s all-time hits leader now at Kent State).
“She was a pretty big hole to fill, but when you get as far as we did you expect to go back. We have huge talent on this team.”