RONDA — Being in the right place at the right time has paid off for East Wilkes senior Kennedy Lester.
Last summer, while pitching for The Fastpitch School at a tournament in Colorado, Lester was spotted by Delaware head coach Jaime Wohlbach.
“Things kind of fell into place. She was watching the wrong game,” Lester said during a recent interview. “I wasn’t doing very well. I hit eight batters. She found amusement in it.”
“Another pitcher was supposed to be pitching,” Wohlbach said, adding her interest in Lester was “a combination of things. She hit eight batters, but I saw she had movement and velocity.
“She had no fear. She had the type of personality you want a pitcher to have.”
Lester said visiting the campus in Newark sealed the deal. “I fell in love with the school,” Lester said. “I love the coaches. It is something good to be a part of.
“To play softball in college has always been a dream.”
Lester said Wohlbach has seen her at tournaments since and had her pitch for pitching coach John Seneca.
“She’s an amazing athlete,” East Wilkes softball coach Bradley Hayes said. “Even a better young lady.
“One of the hardest-working athletes I’ve coached.”
Hayes said Lester always had the ability, but something more impressed him.
“To be honest it wasn’t her performance as much as it was her maturity level. Once you work at something, it makes you appreciate it that much more.”
Lester, going into the MVAC tournament last week, had a .478 batting average; a .913 slugging percentage; five home runs; 20 RBI; and 20 walks.
On the mound, she was 9-2 in 61.1 innings. She had a 1.60 ERA and struck out 98 batters.
“She’s very accomplished,” Hayes said. “Her leadership and knowledge are second to none. She’s definitely a coach on the field. She knows what you are trying to get done. She knows what I’m thinking.
“She’s been with me for four years. Like the other seniors, she knows what we are trying to accomplish.
“At practice and off the field, she is the first person to ask someone if she can help,” Hayes added.
The dream begins with a little girl playing baseball. “When you get a certain age you start playing softball.
“It was something I was good at. I just kept working at it.”
Lester said when she was growing up she saw former East Wilkes and Appalachian State player Yancey Moose pitch. “We went to watch a lot of her games,” Lester said. “I wanted to see what she did and follow in her footsteps.
“They told me she worked at it almost every day.
“A couple of summers ago,” Lester continued, “I made a decision I was going to work every day at it.”
“You like to see the people who put in the time be rewarded,” East Wilkes athletic director Justin Call said. “I’m real happy to see her get to play at the next level.”
Call said students and athletes like Lester are great area representatives.
“It helps to get recognition for the school,” Call said. “It’s kind of a showcase to show the quality of students and athletes we have here at East Wilkes.
“Not only at East Wilkes, but the whole area. It’s good for these coaches to know this is a place where they can recruit.”
An all-around athlete
It hasn’t necessarily come easy for Lester. “I play softball year round,” she said. “When I play basketball, I go home and pitch and bat with my dad every night.”
Lester said she did take the night off from practicing when her basketball team had a game.
Lester said she played basketball and tennis to stay in shape for softball. “I know in college I’m going to have to work out harder,” Lester said.
Lester’s 2013 tennis season was her first in the top six. “She had to come right in and play No. 3,” East Wilkes tennis coach Aaron Simmons said. “In one season she played in more three-set matches. She found a way to beat more talented opponents.
“She was one the people who led us to our second straight conference championship.
“I know she’s all-world in softball,” Simmons continued, “but she gave us as much effort as she gave softball. She’d make it for practice and then practice softball for three hours. That’s cool.”
“She’s a great individual on and off the court,” East Wilkes basketball coach Matt Campbell said. “A true leader. She’d be successful in any sport she played.
“Every day she competed. She always wanted to win.
“It’s a coach’s dream to have someone like that.”
A job she loves
At Delaware, Lester plans to work on a degree involving speech pathology or early childhood education. “I really want to be a special ed teacher, but they don’t have a special ed program,” Lester said.
Lester is looking forward to going away to college, but like any 17-going-on-18-year-old, she has her reservations. “I’m more excited about it than nervous,” Lester said. “I’m a little scared about being seven-and-a-half hours away.
“But I think I’ll be all right.”
But this week, it is not about the worry of college. It is about the pursuit of a team championship. “We’ve had a pretty good season,” Lester said. “If we keep playing like this, we’ll definitely be in the championship game.”
The high school softball season is a favorite time of the year for Lester. “I look forward to it all year,” Lester said. “It has a lot of atmosphere. And I love playing with people I love.”
It’s work, but softball is a work Lester loves. “Sometimes I look at this as a job because it is paying for college,” she said. “If I could do this the rest of my life, that would be great.
“And as much as I love to work with kids, I’d love to coach.”
Delaware, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, just finished their season at 23-27.
Lester is the daughter of Joey and Sheila Lester. “They’ve always encouraged sports in my life and to be involved in stuff,” Lester said. “My mom used to practice with me every day. My dad is always there. He puts in as much time as I do.”
Lester was born and raised in Hamptonville. She has a sister, Madison, who also plays softball. Madison, 14, though, “really likes soccer,” Lester said.
Jim Fuller may be reached at 336-835-1513 or on Twitter @elkinareasports.