On June 6--a week ago today--Gatorade announced that Kelley Lynch of East Coweta High School in Sharpsburg, Ga. was chosen as the 2018-19 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year.
Kelley was presented with the award at her school among teammates, friends, family and coaches by two-time Olympic softball pitcher Jennie Finch.
You can check out a video of Kelley's accomplishments here:
“I had so much fun celebrating with Kelley Lynch after she was named the Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year award and welcoming her into our prestigious family of winners,” said Jennie Finch. “To be recognized by Gatorade is a statement that you are one of the best athletes in the nation. There is no greater honor in high school sports.”
The 5-foot-9 senior right-handed pitcher and shortstop led the Indians to a 32-2 record and their second consecutive Class 7A state championship this past season.
The state’s returning Gatorade Softball Player of the Year, Lynch compiled a 17-0 record with a 0.27 ERA, along with a .436 batting average, three home runs and 25 RBI. The Georgia Athletic Coaches Association Player of the Year, Lynch was also named Player of the Year by the Georgia Dugout Club and was ranked as the nation’s No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019 last October when we released the 2019 Extra Elite 100.
In this Throwback Thursday edition honoring Kelley, who is currently in Texas playing for the USA Softball U-19 Women's National Team, we re-visit the article looking at the player off the field and the factors that made her become one of the top prospects in the game...
2019 Extra Elite 100’s #1 Player: The Driving Forces Behind Kelley Lynch’s Success
Originally published October 29, 2018
Kelley Lynch has accomplished everything a softball player her age can achieve, but you get the feeling she’d give it all up for one thing.
On Friday, Kelley was named as the No. 1 player by Extra Inning Softball in the 2019 Extra Elite 100 and just one day later, Saturday, October 27, would pitch a no-hitter in the semi’s and then a perfect game in the Georgia 7A state title game to give East Coweta (Sharpsburg, Georgia) High its second straight high school championship.
And just in the last six months she’s won a PGF 18U National Championship as the ace of Patrick Lewis’s Georgia Impact team, was named the Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year and was one of the first wave of talented players invited to try out this winter for the USA Softball Jr. National Team.
Following a junior year where she and current South Carolina freshman Rachel Vaughn would lead the Lady Indians to a 36-0 record and the first softball championship in school history, Kelley was named an Extra Inning Softball 1st Team All-American and shined this fall both in the circle and at the plate.
Although every team tried to find a way to shut her arm and bat down, Kelley went 17-0 with two saves, had 236 strikeouts in 105 1/3rd innings, compiled a miniscule 0.26 ERA and tossed three perfect games and three no hitters as well. Offensively, she batted .436 with three home runs, eight doubles, 25 RBI and a whopping 31 walks with 20 being intentional leading to a .584 on-base percentage.
LOSING HER FIRST & FAVORITE COACH
Yet all of her accomplishments admittedly are a little less fulfilling without her biggest fan and favorite coach: her father, Steve.
On October 31, 2011--Halloween Day seven years ago this week--the dad and coach of two future softball standouts was diagnosed with esophageal cancer and less than five months later, March 7, 2012, Steve Lynch passed away, but not before leaving behind a legacy that still resonates strongly throughout the Peach State to this day.
“I think about my dad a lot,” Kelley says. “As the years go by it is easier to accept everything that has happened. I think more about the happy memories we shared and smile about them.”
There certainly were a lot of great times as well as there were a lot of lives touched by the salesman of CAT heavy equipment when not at the fields.
A longtime coach and softball supporter at every level, Steve Lynch not only mentored his daughters Katey and Kelly in the Atlanta Vipers organization, he seemingly had an influence on thousands of softball players, parents and coaches at every age and playing level.
“The Saturday before Steve passed away, word got out that his days were numbered,” his wife, Jan, recalls. “There was a line of visitors to pay their last respects that started outside the hospital. Hundreds and hundreds of friends, family, coworkers and customers of his at Yancey Brothers Caterpillar and members of the softball family were there: entire teams from the travel ball community, rec ball, middle school, high school, coaches, etc.”
The mother of two continues: “Steve made a lasting impact on the lives of everyone he came into contact with, but none more than his softball girls, families and coaches.”
Steve was moved to hospice the next day, and even though he was in and out of consciousness at this point, the visitors continued non-stop. Many came each day and stayed all day long until visiting hours were over.
He passed three days later and over a thousand people attended his visitation as well as his funeral.
“People waited in line, which wrapped around the church, for hours at the visitation,” recalls Jan. “It was standing room only for his funeral. The Newnan Georgia Police Department were there to direct traffic and parking due to all the cars. Steve’s customers had delivered various CAT tractors and other equipment he had sold them which were placed in front of the church.”
The impact of Steve Lynch continues to this day--just recently, Jan received a photo from Chris Polk, the father of Troy University freshman Adia Polk who played with Kelley on the Vipers team that her father coached.
Chris wrote, “Adia just sent me her new glove and guess whose initials are on it: SL. I can’t explain how great of an impact he made on my child but want to thank you for it.”
One of the last to speak to Steve Lynch was East Coweta High Head Coach Franklin DeLoach.
“I spoke to him just a day and a half before he died,” the coach recalls. “He told me he wanted his daughters to play for me and for the last nine years we’ve had a Lynch softball player in the lineup wearing #10. I just hope I didn’t let Mr. Steve down.”
Katey was only in the 9th grade when her father would pass away and Kelley was just 10 years old; Katey would become, according to her high school coach, a “double-hitting machine who wore out the gaps. She could really swing the bat and in the 10th grade was a solid catcher coming in, but a knee injury slowed her down and she played the corner positions very well.”
The oldest Lynch softball sibling, now age 21, would go on to play at Kennesaw State before taking a medical retirement after two shoulder surgeries. Today, she is Stacy Tamborra’s personal assistant at Champions Fast Pitch Academy and helps coach two Atlanta Vipers club teams.
“My sister has always been a role model for me,” Kelley says. “Since she is four years older than me, I started playing at a very young age. I would always pitch to parents at all of her tournaments or throw with her out in the front yard. She’s the main reason I got into playing softball.”
Coach DeLoach remembers that when Katey was playing on the high school team, a regular sight at games would be dad and youngest daughter working together between pitches.
“Steve and Kelley would be in centerfield or down the lines,” the coach laughs, “and he’d stand up for every pitch when Katey was batting and then between pitches and innings would catch Kelley and you’d hear the ball hitting his glove.”
GETTING BACK INTO SOFTBALL
After her father’s death, Kelley was understandably devastated, and her mother admits it took some time for her to get her bearings as to how to continue in softball.
“Her father had always played a part in both of the girls’ softball experiences including Kelley’s Atlanta Viper’s team. It was really hard for the next year after Steve died until Andrew Biele of the East Cobb Bullets picked her up and she really started to shine.”
Biele would go on to coach Kelley for four years and remembers softball as being a way for her to leave the stunning loss of her father and coach behind… or at least as a diversion to enjoy life between the lines.
“Kelley was always having fun when she was at the field,” he remembers. “She was always full of humor and loved to be around her teammates. I always looked at it as her outlet having been through everything she had been through.”
“She is a great kid and softball was her extended family,” Biele continues. “What most people didn’t know is how determined Kelley was. She wasn’t always the best pitcher, but there was never a moment in that kid’s mind that she wasn’t going to become the best pitcher. In the beginning she would walk 10-plus batters a game, but she never got frustrated and never stopped trying to get better. There was also never a moment she wasn’t having fun doing it.”
The Bullets coach also recalls that her confidence was always off the charts.
“I remember when we were a 14U team and we were playing up in an 18U tournament. We were playing one of the best 18 Gold teams in Georgia, Kelley was pitching the best game she had ever pitched to that point in her career and we were up 1-0 in the last inning. She walked the first batter, hit the next batter and went two balls, no strikes on the next batter.”
“I called ‘Time out’ and went to the mound and asked her how she felt and she just smiled and said, ‘Coach, I’m like James Brown, I feel goooood.’ I just smiled and walked back to the dugout and we won that game 1-0.”
Kelley says her father’s influence in her life, both on and off the field, has remained with her to this day.
“It took a long time to get over his loss and in many ways I’m still not ‘over it’ but it has definitely impacted many aspects of my life. Specifically, with softball, it made me motivated to be my best. My work ethic increased because softball was a way to still feel connected even though he isn’t still here.”
According to Coach Franklin, her father’s passing likely helped her on-field demeanor which has led to the nickname “Kelley Ice.”
“That has made those girls become so strong,” believes the East Coweta High coach. “With Kelley, you just have to see in person to believe it, it’s like nothing phases her and there’s no stage too nerve-racking. She does have ice running through those veins and I think it’s because of the guy who coached her first, who helped her have the high softball IQ she has today.”
“And I have to think that she’s so strong and tough between the ears because she had to watch her father as he was dying and it put everything in perspective.”
Kelley laughs about the nickname “Kelley Ice,” but admits, “I guess it would be accurate. I don’t like to show a ton of emotion on the field until after the game is over. I feel like it keeps me calm and focused during the game.”