By LARRY VAUGHT
Ask Kentucky coach Rachel Lawson about senior shortstop Katie Reed and the coach almost explodes with enthusiasm.
“If you are a fan of the Big Blue and have not had a chance to see her, it’s really important for you to see her because an athlete like that does not come around often,” said Lawson. “She’s not quite big enough, not quite fast, not quite all those things but she is exceptionally gifted mentally, has the heart of a lion and is our leading student as well.”
The Missouri native is a .340 career hitter with 187 hits, including 25 doubles and 12 home runs. She’s driven in 75 runs and scored 105 runs but she’s probably even better known for her defensive prowess. She had a .977 fielding percentage last year when she was named to the all-SEC defensive team and makes plays most athletes cannot. She recently was named to the preseason all-SEC team by the league coaches again.
“It is a huge honor that other coaches in the SEC respect me and the way I play the game. It’s a really cool honor,” Reed, the 2018 SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year and Academic All-American, said.
Lawson calls her the “Larry Bird of softball” because, like, the former NBA star, she doesn’t have all the physical attributes that some other athletes have.
“But she is still the best player on the field every time she plays just like Larry Bird was the best player on the court when he played,” Lawson said. “The other day she fielded a ball behind second base, threw out a quick runner and we just thought it was an ordinary play. But it wasn’t. She’s just so good she makes it look ordinary.
“She is not very big. She has a good arm, but not a great arm. She’s fast, but not the fastest player on the team. In the offseason, her strength went through the roof. She is the one you want up there at the plate when you need a hit. No matter what happens, you wanted her there. She’s just special. She’s never even made a B here (in class). She is the ultimate student-athlete.”
Reed, who has already been accepted into the University of Pittsburgh’s dental school, cannot fully appreciate Lawson comparing her to Larry Bird. His 13th and final season with the Boston Celtics was 1991-92 — long before Reed was born. He’s also been the head coach and team executive with the Indiana Pacers.
“I know of him and that he played for the Celtics,” Reed said when told about Lawson’s comparison. “Obviously, I am not the biggest or strongest player. I know the strengths and weakness of my game and try to make my strengths even stronger. I focus on the weaknesses but I put more focus on the strengths.
“Growing up, I was tiny and people said I was too small to play or too small to be shortstop and that was just motivation and pushed me to achieve those things. Another part is your heart. You do not have to be the most talented if you have the heart and passion to succeed.”
She certainly has that — along with more talent than it might first appear when you see her.
Just don’t ask her about the weaknesses.
“I don’t want to share them,” she laughed and said. “I don’t think there is something I am terrible at. There are certain things offensively that I can get better at. Hitting for power is one thing that has improved a lot over my four years here and always getting better defensively, expanding my range, strengthening my arm, being able to have mental toughness in pressure situations are things you want to be better at.”
How could she expand her range when she routinely gets to balls now than few can? She says studying angles in the offseason has helped.
“I have studied how important that first step is. My main focus defensively is to establish the right angle so I can get to balls way up the middle or balls that sneak by (third baseman) Abbey (Cheek). I expect to field anything hit my way and do whatever I can go make the play for our pitcher. If she (the pitcher) can keep the ball in the infield, our job is to make a play.
“I have always taken a lot of pride in defense. I know it has not always been a part of game that fans enjoy. Most fans like seeing home runs and big hitters. But defense has always been my favorite part of the game and if the ball is hit between second and third, I want to make the play and believe I can make the play.”
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Kentucky opens the season Feb. 8 with two games in Houston. Kentucky’s first home game will be March 12 against Miami (Ohio).