The mighty Kasey...
Nobody likes batting ninth.
It’s a little demoralizing to be the last name called when the lineups are announced, and the opposing coach inevitably will holler, “No 9 hitter!” to let his pitcher know that the really dangerous hitters have already come and gone.
Two years ago, when Metamora went 39-1 and won the state championship, Kasey Kanaga, who was only a sophomore, batted ninth.
She didn’t like it.
But Metamora coach Deric Linder kept her there — not because she couldn’t hit, or because he wanted to send her some sort of message.
He kept her at the bottom of the order because that No. 9 spot had a mysterious way of coming up in crucial situations.
Two runners on, two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning of a one-run game. Tying run on third with one out...
Kanaga, more often than not, delivered clutch hits in those moments.
Instead of shouting “No. 9 hitter,” when she came to the plate, opposing coaches paced in the dugout and grunted nervously, “Hey outfielders, be ready!”
Or, the coach would walk to the mound to discuss strategy with his pitcher and catcher.
We could walk her. No, that won’t work, since Krista Polanin and Justine Phillips are the next two hitters...
Oh, all right. We’ll pitch to her. But, be careful!
“Kasey got on base with her speed, but she also drove in some runs that year,” Linder said. “She has more power than you might expect.”
Kanaga, a senior, does not bat ninth anymore. She’s in the leadoff spot now.
Take one look at her stats, and you’ll see why.
.490 batting average, .559 on base percentage, 24 runs scored, 4 triples, 14 stolen bases (in 15 attempts), only 3 strikeouts in 51 at-bats...
“She’s so fun to watch,” said Metamora assistant coach Tara Ballard, who also coached Kanaga on the volleyball team for the past three years. “She’s a great base runner, and she does all the little things well. She is having a great season.”
Ballard said the numbers only tell part of the story.
“Kasey is a fierce competitor. She’ll dive, slide, or do whatever it takes to get the job done,” she said. “She’s also one of our leaders. She’s not afraid to call somebody out. She’ll let her teammates know what’s on her mind. But, it’s always in the best interest of the team. She’s the ultimate team player.”
Ballard remembered many times when Kanaga, even as she was nursing a sore thumb, dove flat out on the volleyball court to get to a ball and save the rally.
Then there are the countless plays Kanaga makes at second base, some of which may get taken for granted.
“I think we take it for granted because we see her make all the plays at second base every day,” Ballard said. “But, not many other second basemen would make those plays. Kasey works very hard on her defense, and it has helped her become one of the best infielders in the area. Once in a while, she’ll make an amazing play that will take your breath away.”
Ballard said Kanaga is all business during a game, but she also has a lighter side.
“She can be really funny,” she said.
When asked to give an example, Ballard said, laughing, “I can’t think of anything that she would want to have in print.”
Longtime summer softball coach Bob Garber, who coached Kanaga since she was 12 years old, said Kanaga’s knowledge of the game, even before she got to the varsity level, was advanced.
“She sees plays develop before they happen. You can’t coach that kind of thing,” he said. “She knows a lot about the game, but she is also very coachable. She’s always trying to get better.”
Garber agreed with Ballard’s assessment that Kanaga would do just about anything to win.
“If we were struggling at the plate, and we really needed to get somebody on base, Kasey would take one in the back,” he said. “She played her heart out every game. As a coach, you love to see that.”