A grand tennis backhand switched Kayla Lenz's softball outlook.
For six years on the Pequot Lakes varsity girls' tennis team, Lenz perfected her trade en route to two state tournaments and the top spot on the school's career win list.
That tennis talent has allowed Lenz the ability to hit from both sides of the plate. This skill, which she started working on last year, has Lenz batting .447 (21-of-47) with 14 runs, two doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and a .564 on-base percentage.
Her average has improved from .349 her sophomore season and .348 her junior year.
"When I started switch hitting I started hitting slower pitchers better," said Lenz, a three-sport athlete and valedictorian. "I like going up against faster pitchers, but when I went to the left side of the plate I was able to hit slower pitchers better."
As of Tuesday, Lenz was 9-of-10 from the left side. She said the grip is the same as a tennis backhand and so is the feel of the bat. Even the color of the softball is the same as a tennis ball.
Last week the senior was 10-of-16 in five games. She finished 4-for-4 with three RBIs against Detroit Lakes and added a 3-4 performance against Wadena-Deer Creek.
"She's not just a slap hitter," said Patriots coach Bret Sergent. "She's been hitting line drives and I'm sure her tennis background has really helped with that. Last year she started to mess around with hitting from the left side and started learning the technique. She's very inquisitive and always willing to give different things a shot."
Improved hitting is just another weapon for the three-year starting catcher. Lenz leads the team in stolen bases with 12 in 12 attempts. She has a .954 fielding percentage. Sergent believes her understanding of the game makes her one of the best defensive catchers he's had.
"She makes a lot of amazing plays," said Sergent. "She's thrown out five runners. She does a nice job behind the plate. Not much gets by her. Plus, she calls most of the pitches and calls a pretty good game."
The two-year co-captain and two-year All-Mid-State Conference selection has been catching starting pitcher Olivia Baumann since seventh grade.
"We're great friends and it started in softball," said Lenz, who will attend the University of Wisconsin-Stout next season where she will major in mathematics and computer science and play tennis.
"We both used to pitch in seventh grade and when I pitched she caught me and when she pitched I would catch her," Lenz added. "I just decided that I liked to catch more and we've been together ever since. We've bonded a lot through softball. We're serious about winning, but we have fun out there."
School: Pequot Lakes
Key stats: Finished 4-for-4 with three RBIs against Detroit Lakes and was 3-4 against Wadena-Deer Creek
Other notable performances:
Golf: Cydney Hasselberg, Staples-Motley, shot 79 for medalist honors in the Park Rapids Invite.
Softball: Ellen Rauschel, Aitkin, finished 2-for-3 with a triple and four RBIs against Pequot Lakes.
Tiffany Dixon, Pillager, went 4-5 with a double, triple, six RBIs and five runs scored against Bertha-Hewitt. She was 4-5 with a double, home run, three runs and five RBIs against Sebeka.
Nicole Bart, Verndale, struck out 15, walked one and allowed no earned runs in 15 innings to pick up two victories against Bertha-Hewitt.
Ellie Cox, Aitkin, hit a grand slam and had five RBIs against Albrook.
Track and field: Lauren Landrus, Aitkin, won the 1600 and 3200 runs at the Aitkin Invite.
Kaari Jensen, Pierz, won the 100 hurdles and long jump at the Pequot Lakes Invite.
Amy Fredman, Pillager, won the discus and shot put at the Pillager Invite.
Katlin Krause, Pillager, won the 100 and 200 dashes and the long jump at the Pillager Invite.
JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5856.
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