Softball: High Hopes abound for Catamounts again as Ladies look forward to Spring

The life of a college student-athlete can be difficult.  It can be more difficult when you have to wait six months before your sport officially begins.  Such is the life of two of the most talented softball players to ever set foot on the Potomac State College campus.

Beth Cook and Kendall Keplinger each return to Potomac State for their sophomore seasons one year after helping the Lady Catamounts softball team reach heights never seen before.

This past May, Potomac State’s softball team won their first ever Region XX Championship on their home field.  That victory propelled the Catamounts into the first NJCAA Softball World Series in school history.

“Winning regionals on our home field is one of my most fond memories”, said Cook. “It was such an amazing feeling to be the first softball team from Potomac State to win regionals and doing it on our home field made it so much better.”

The Catamounts lifting the Region XX Championship trophy was not easy as they dropped the opening game on the final day of the tournament to Chesapeake College by a score of 8-3, pushing the two teams to a winner-take-all game. 

In the final game Cook had three hits and scored a run to lead Potomac State to a 5-3 win that set off a huge celebration.

Beth Cook
Beth Cook

“As our season went on we gained more and more fans, and when the regional tournament came around we had a big turnout,” said Cook.  “We went into the tournament, the Number 2 seed and we knew we had to prove we deserved to be there.”

Indeed they did deserve it.  The Catamounts stood an impressive 28-11 after the Region XX Tournament and would then set their sights on the NJCAA World Series held in Clinton, Mississippi.

Cook put the experience into perspective: “Going to the World Series gave me mixed feelings. I was so ecstatic we were one of the 16 teams left in the nation playing in this tournament. It also made me very nervous. In high school, my team was the State Runners-Up three years in a row. That was such a blessing to be able to compete for three years in the State Tournament but it was nothing compared to the atmosphere at the NJCAA World Series. It was such a huge stage to be playing on. The season did not end how we had hoped it would but we were all so happy and blessed to be a part of history at Potomac State College.”

Despite falling in both games at the World Series, the accomplishments of these two Catamounts were not over.

One of the most popular festivities of the World Series was the Home Run Derby that featured one player from each team.

Keplinger got the call for the Cats facing off with 15 other competitors.

“I got the honor for representing Potomac State in the homerun derby, said Keplinger. “Once we arrived to the field I turned to my Dad and Mom and said “I can do this.” “However, as I started walking over to the field, I was a little bit nervous with my legs shaking a bit but I was determined.”

Determined might be an understatement.  The Keyser, W.Va. native fought off three different “swing offs” when she and her opponent were tied at the end of each round.

After finally reaching the final round, Keplinger found inspiration to push her over the top.

“In the final round, I turned around to see that the other 14 teams were cheering my name which helped bring some power.” 

Another “swing off” was necessary in the final round. Before Keplinger finished off her Home Run Derby title with a towering home run to right field.

“After I shook my opponents hand and started to pick up the softballs, I turned to see my Mom being the first one on the field and her eyes was filled with tears.  She was followed by my Father who had a giant grin on his face. Then I looked to my right and saw all of my awesome teammates and coaches congratulating me for my accomplishment. It was a great feeling to know that I had won but it was even better when they said the last home run was 30 feet over the 200 ft. fence.”

Kendall Keplinger
Kendall Keplinger

Despite the public address announcer’s pleas for fans to move their cars prior to the event, some were still skeptical.

“Yeah it was funny”, said Keplinger.  “Before I started hitting the announcer asked for the people to move their cars, but nobody listened until it was too late. I had already begun and the balls were flying at the cars and hitting them.

When it was all over there was a man at the dinner who walked up to me and said, ‘I owe you a bill’, I replied, “What?” and then he told me, ‘Aren’t you the one who won the derby?’ He then just laughed and walked away.

“My father later told me this man was sitting on top of his new car attempting to slap the balls away.”

While Keplinger’s run at the World Series was impressive, equally impressive was the season that Cook had from March to May.

The Moorefield, W.Va. native finished the season with an eye-popping .512 batting average, good enough for 12th in the country.  Her 66 hits led the team, including 12 home runs, 21 doubles and 61 runs batted in.

Her impressive season was good enough for her to be named a NJCAA Third-Team All-American.

The humble Cook spoke of what being named All-American meant to her: “It was honestly a shock to me. I did not expect to be one of the top players in the nation and I am so honored with that award. It has always been a personal goal of mine to play at the collegiate level and win an All-American Award but as I grew older and being from a small town I knew it was going to be a long reach to that goal. My Mom has always told me I can do anything that I set my mind to and I did just that. I set my mind that I wanted to play a collegiate sport and I did.”

While all of the accomplishments and memories of last season are special, these two women have their sights set on even bigger and better things.

“My expectations for this year are the same as last seasons,” said Cook. “ I am expecting us to give it our all and do what we are capable of doing.  We will be working hard for the next six months.  Our goal is to win Regionals and win at the World Series.”

“It was all such a wonderful experience and I hope to be able to return this year”, said Keplinger. “With the players who have returned and with the new ones, there is no doubt in my mind that we can make it back. We have that type of potential.”

Cook, Keplinger and their fellow Catamounts have already begun their fall season working hard for a homecoming to Mississippi this spring.  Anyone who doubts the Catamounts’ chances to return just needs to be sure they don’t park beyond the outfield fences.