By Jonathan Deal
Kelsey Gilbert, Kelsey Turner and Brittany Brown have grown accustomed to playing in the state softball tournament. The former Ardmore trio played in the state tournament in four consecutive seasons in high school. Today, they will play in a different state tournament when Calhoun travels to Alabaster for the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament.
The three freshmen have enjoyed a successful season at Calhoun, earning starting roles in their first season with the team. Calhoun’s coach, Nancy Keenum, said she’s known about the Ardmore trio long before they won a state championship in 2010.
“They had been really competitive since they were freshman,” Keenum said. “That entire class was good. Coaches will tell you, ‘That tenth-grade bunch are the ones you need to keep an eye on.’ You keep up with them that way and this group is no different.”
That Ardmore senior class produced four college softball players and two collegiate basketball players, among others. While another teammate, Callie Steadman, signed with UNA to play softball, these three former Ardmore standouts decided to stay together at the next level.
“We bonded so well, and that’s something you can’t really coach,” Turner said. “You just have to be around each other so long. We knew each other so well. We knew we had each other’s back. It was like we were all sisters.”
Turner has started in 59 games at third base for the Warhawks this season, as many as any other player on the team. Playing so many games is one of the many differences that separate college from high school softball, according to Keenum.
“It’s a step up from high school to here,” she said. “Just the demands and expectations you put on them. We don’t have a huge coaching staff, so they have to go hit by their self a lot of times. They have a lot more responsibility.”
One glaring difference between collegiate and high school softball is the talent-level. Gilbert, one of the team’s primary pitchers, sees it every game on the mound.
“There are more hitters,” Gilbert said. “There are a lot of home-run hitters rather than just one’s that will get base hits. Some teams that we play have a first batter that can hit a home run and their ninth batter can also hit a home run.”
Gilbert has posted a 12-8 record with a team-best 96 strikeouts in her 31 games on the mound this year. Keenum recalls one of Gilbert’s first games at the collegiate level, in a fall game against Middle Tennessee State.
“We went to Chattanooga and played MTSU,” Keenum said. “A girl hit a home run a long, long way. I ask her (Gilbert) if anyone had hit a home run on her like that. She said, ‘Coach, no one has ever hit one that far in my life.’”
Playing against tough competition hasn’t scared these freshmen away from the collegiate game. Neither has playing more than 60 games this season, nearly twice the number they played at the high school level.
So are they ready for the season to end?
“Nope,” said Brown with a smile on her face. “We’re ready for 60 more.”
Calhoun will have a chance to play at least a few more when they play Chattahoochee Valley in the ACCC tournament today. First pitch from Alabaster is at 10 a.m.