by Kyle Koso
CUMMING, Ga. – Back in the day, those of us dispatched to the back end of the batting order got sent there for a reason … sort of a “save the worst for last” situation, to be frank.
It’s different today, as coaches like having a potent option in the final spot, someone with some speed and an ability to get back to the top of the order after a quality at-bat.
Well, there was no more outstanding swing from the No. 10 hole on Thursday than the one from Kennedy Miller of the Lady Dukes Lamar 18u Burgess squad, as the Arkansas commit launched a grand slam in the first inning against OC Batbusters Stith to help the Dukes storm to the 18u championship at TC Nationals with a 10-2 victory at Fowler Park.
A three-run double from Keagan Rothrock (Florida) already had the Dukes off and running in the opening frame, and patient at-bats from Jolyna Lamar and Kaniya Bragg (UCLA) led to walks that loaded the bases ahead of Miller with two outs. Miller’s big swing gave the Dukes an 8-0 lead, one that stretched to 10-0 before the Batbusters pushed a couple runs across in the bottom of the fifth.
“I wasn’t really going up there thinking about hitting a home run. Usually if you do that, you’re not going to,” Miller said. “The girls in the lineup had given us an early lead, so I just wanted to capitalize on it. Just thinking about getting a base hit, and it worked.”
Providing the necessary balance in the pitching circle was Caroline Stanton, a definite outlier in the rare air of 18u softball as she is just getting ready to enter her sophomore year. Stanton pitched four strong innings, getting some relief help from Olivia Miller (Ole Miss) that kept the lead big enough to invoke the run rule after five frames.
“I definitely have so much appreciation for our offense, how incredible they are and how they have my back,” Stanton said. “It gives me confidence knowing I have so much cushion to work with the rest of the game.”
“She was phenomenal – she’s so young, and when we were in Colorado (at the TC 4th of July event) and here, we were short on pitching,” Miller said. “She’s gone through some ups and downs, but I completely respect her. She’s done a great job.”
“(Batbusters) had to sit and wait for us to finish our game; we came straight into this one and the bats were hot from the previous game,” said coach James Burgess, whose team had to come back from several runs down to beat Top Gun 18u in the semifinals. “It was just a continuation for us. Hats off to the Stith team, we’ve had plenty of battles, and they are always a tough opponent.
“(Stanton), if I’m not mistaken, the first time she played with the 18’s, she was in eighth grade. We told her in Colorado and here that she was going to grow. We have the utmost confidence in her, we’ll put her up against anybody, and I think what you’ll see in two to three years is she’ll be one of the top ones.”
Miller also scored in the fourth inning on a sacrifice fly from Jadyn Laneaux (LSU), and Rothrock notched her fourth RBI with a single in the fifth that brought in Kylee Edwards (Mississippi State).
“Kennedy is one of the girls that came with me over from Texas, and we told Kennedy, you’re going to hit .450 this year from the 10 hole,” Burgess added. “We play a lot of teams who don’t know who Kennedy is, and she’s got lights-out power. We’ve seen it time and time again, you put her in and she sends it out of the ballpark.”