By SPENCER GLEASON
Daily News Sports Editor
Nyah Edenshaw started to prepare for her at-bat against Thunder Mountain High School.
The Ketchikan High School senior has a smooth swing from the left side — one strong, fluid motion. But she’s added to her repertoire since the last time she played a softball game in a Kayhi Lady Kings’ jersey — in 2019. She’s not just a power-hitter anymore.
“Nyah was really more of a just straight hitter, coming through JV,” Lady Kings’ head coach Kalea Allen said. “And then we started working on some slapping, and getting her some more tools under her belt. So that way, when the situation came up that we needed a small ball, she could lay down that small ball. Or when we need that deep ball, she can definitely get that, (too).”
Edenshaw has become pretty good at playing small ball.
“I mean, she can do anything from bunting for a hit to a home run,” Allen said. “… Just the other day, I said, ‘Hey, what do you want to do? Do you want to slap? Hit?’
“She said, ‘What do you need me to do, coach?’”
That ‘team first’ mentality can be hard to find sometimes in teenagers. But it’s easy to see the camaraderie between the Lady Kings this season.
Lucky for Allen, she has a whole roster full of student athletes who have that ‘team first’ approach.
“Having that attitude is really, really positive,” she said. “And it just shows me that these kids are here to play, and they’re here to win.”
And the Lady Kings have won.
They’ve started their 2021 season with a three-game winning streak, after sweeping the Thunder Mountain Lady Falcons over the weekend.
Kayhi took the twin bill on Friday, winning the first game 12-4, and the second game 12-10. The Lady Kings scored a dozen runs in each conference game, and beat the Lady Falcons 7-0 in a non-conference matchup on Saturday at Dudley Field.
“We got a lot of people in other positions that they haven’t played, yet,” Allen said of Saturday’s win, “just to give them some more varsity time. … Just about all of our crossovers got in that game, and that’s (a big) thing … being a utility player, and learning to play multiple positions, so that we have depth on our roster.
“And this is a special year — because we have that,” she continued. “We have depth on our roster — seniors to freshmen — that can play just about every position.”
And it’s not just positions in the field. The Lady Kings have a handful of pitchers, including Kelleigh Nickich, Hannah Moody, Kenzie Pahang and Lyla Seludo, that can toss it from the pitcher’s circle.
“We have some (pitchers) on JV, who are on our crossover roster, that, when we get those leads, we can give them that varsity time, (too),” Allen said. “The fact that we have pitchers who can consistently give us strikes is nice. Because once a team is timing us up, or timing up a pitcher, we’ve got the next pitcher to go in and hopefully throw them off a little bit. … So just having those options and having that depth, keeps us a little more relaxed, and we can have a little bit more fun because we’re able to play a little bit better.”
Softball’s already a hard enough game. There’s no point in making it any more difficult than it already is. Even the best hitters fail more times than they succeed.
But that’s why it’s important to keep the atmosphere on the softball field lighthearted.
“This is a really fun group,” Allen said. “We’ve had a lot of time together, especially in the offseason. I think that’s what makes it more special, is we had to go through the lows together, and now we’re finally at the highs, where we’re playing — and we’re getting some W’s under our belt.
“So it’s fun to go through that experience with them, even though it wasn’t the best experience — not playing and such,” she continued. “But we just kind of laugh about it. I’m known as the coach that didn’t have a season, and then a tournament was canceled.”
Indeed, after Allen was hired as the Lady Kings’ softball head coach in November 2019, the ensuing 2020 season was canceled due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. And then, this season’s opening tournament in Sitka was canceled due to weather.
But in situations like this — playing a game amid a global pandemic — it’s nice to be surrounded by friendly faces.
Allen was the junior varsity coach, and an assistant to the varsity staff, for seveal seasons before becoming the varsity head coach.
“It’s nice to see them move up as a pod,” she said. “And there are a few of them here, that actually when I first moved here, I coached (in) little league — like Kelleigh (Nickich) and Shaelyn (Mendoza). It’s funny to see them as preteens and now teens, now getting ready to go to college.
“So that evolution is pretty awesome. But it does make me realize how long I’ve been out of the game, myself. … It keeps me youthful.”
It’s all part of that Lady Kings’ camaraderie — a ‘team first’ mentality that’s undefeated through three games.
“Having these games as officially the head coach, and playing the way we did, I couldn’t be more proud,” Allen said. “I told all of these girls, I’m proud of every single one of them. Every single one of them plays a vital role on this team.
“And I think as long as we keep that environment, keep that atmosphere — and our team chemistry together — that we can definitely go places this season.”
The Lady Kings played steady defense behind its pitching staff this weekend. But Kayhi center fielder Nyah Edenshaw’s running catch against the wall on Friday night might have topped them all.
Thunder Mountain’s Avery Kreischer smoked a pitched from Kenzie Pahang to deep center field — almost a sure extra-base hit, which would have plated a run in the top of the six inning on Friday night.
But Edenshaw made the grab while crashing up against the outfield fence, and hung on to the ball.
It was the second out of the inning, and Pahang struck out the next batter for the final out of the frame, maintaining Kayhi’s 11-7 lead.
The Lady Kings won the game 12-10.
The play received an ovation from Friday night’s crowd at Dudley Field.
“The blood, sweat and tears that these players put into this game — already this early into the season — is awesome,” Allen said after the three-game sweep. “And we’re only going to improve that along the way.”