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Kelland prepared to pitch for Hawks in their first postseason appearance
When Nikki Kelland walked on the softball field at Gila Ridge three years ago, history was hers for the making.
Kelland has risen to the challenge in her junior year, helping the Hawks to their first postseason appearance in school history by emerging as an ace in the circle this year.â€¨“At first it was a lot of pressure,” Kelland said. “But over the years you kind of get used to it and you know you can do it and you get better.”
Gila Ridge enters the postseason as the No. 24 seed and will play at No. 9 Desert Edge in Goodyear today at 11 a.m.
Hawks coach Jaime McGalliard said she didn't know much about their opponent other than they are well coached and have a decent pitcher but said she is confident in Kelland's abilities to help the team advance.
“As long as Nikki continues to hit spots and continues to mix her pitches well I think we can compete with anybody on any level,” McGalliard said. “When you pitch, it's a position that puts a ton of pressure on you. ... As far as Nikki goes, we go. We enjoy supporting her, we enjoy scoring runs for her.”
For Kelland, it wasn't always such smooth sailing.
As a freshman she experienced a rough transition from youth ball to the high school level. It wasn't easy, but it ultimately made her better.
“As a freshman, she took some lumps,” McGalliard said. “You're 14 years old, pitching against grown 18-year-old women. Eighteen-year-old women are bigger and stronger and things like that — they're experienced. ... I think that helped her mature as a pitcher. You can tell kids all you want, ‘you've got to develop a pitch, you've got to develop a change-up, you have to spot your fastball, you have to have breaking pitches.' You can tell them all of that but until they've experienced a little bit of failure, they're going to continue to do things their way.
“That's the difference between this year and last year. Last year she was still throwing and she would make too many mistakes with a pitch over the plate. This year she's pitching. She knows what pitch she wants to throw in what spot.”
But one of the best facets of Kelland's game isn't the location of her pitches or how hard she throws the ball. Instead it's her ability to keep hitters guessing what she'll throw at them next.
“As she's grown into a junior what I like about her is, no matter what the situation is, no matter what the score is, you can't tell what she's thinking — she's never rattled,” McGalliard said. “She's focused all the time and as a pitcher you have to have a short memory and you can't worry about what just happened. You have to be focused on right now. That's something that has stood out about her is her competitiveness with the ability to keep her composure.”
Kelland has had a lot of practice perfecting her game, getting involved with softball from an early age — and always having her twin sister Candi to practice with.
“We've been on the same team since we were about five, since we started,” Candi Kelland said. “We'll call each other out and it kind of makes us push harder. We have a cage at our house, too, so we'll feed each other balls and hit in the cage.”
For a girl who didn't want to be a pitcher, she has certainly emerged as a force in the circle for the Hawks. The junior has vastly improved from the girl who stepped into the unknown three years ago and is now ready to lead her team deep into the postseason.
“I think we have a great chance,” Nikki Kelland said. “We've been putting in a lot of work in practice to be there and now we're here and we're ready. No one has ever done this but we have — we came all the way.”
Erin Redmond can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6880. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSErinRedmond.