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Stokes ready to keep throwing strikes with USC-Salkehatchie

Posted: June 20, 2016 1:19 p.m.
Updated: June 21, 2016 1:00 a.m.
Tom Didato/C-I photo/

CAMDEN’S KENNEDI STOKES SIGNED a National Letter of Intent to continue her academic and softball endeavors at USC-Salkehatchie during a ceremony at CHS. Joining the former Lady Bulldogs for the occasion were her family, from left, her brother, Trenton, her parents, Lee and Kelly Stokes, and her sister, Madison. Standing, from left, are her travel team softball coach Mike Rawl, CHS head softball coach Lynn Looney, CHS principal Dan Matthews and CHS athletics director Jimmy Neal.

To the best of anyone’s knowledge, USC-Salkehatchie has not asked Camden High graduate Kennedi Stokes to come up with a slogan touting the virtues of the Allendale-based junior college.

Maybe, school officials should consider giving the former Lady Bulldog a crack at it after giving her reasons for signing a National Letter of Intent to play softball at the school.

“It’s a small school. I really like the coach,” Stokes said of her decision to sign with head coach Kenneth Bellamy’s Indians. “It’s in the middle of everything but it’s also in the middle of nowhere.”

This past season, Camden rode Stokes’ right arm to a second-place finish behind Region 4-AAA champion Chapin and to a win in the AAA Upper State playoffs before falling to Daniel in the third round of the District 1 tournament.

A three-year starter on the mound for the Lady Bulldogs, Stokes batted cleanup for Camden this past season. A four-year varsity letterwinner who was brought to the varsity to add depth for Camden’s playoff run as an eighth-grader, Stokes quickly became a favorite of head coach Lynn Looney.

“Kennedi is a great kid. She did everything I ever asked her to do,” Looney said. “She probably worked harder than about any player that I’ve ever had. She’s also very focused.”

Stokes concluded her high school career by being named to the AAA All-State softball squad. While noted more for her work inside the pitcher’s circle, she also is capable of playing second base even though Looney was hesitant to even place Stokes there during practice or, on those rare occasions when she was not throwing.

“She may have been there a couple times in practice but we were saving her and her knee,” Looney said of Stokes’ practice at second base.

“We played her at second base in a couple of games but she had tweaked her knee and I did not want to lose her pitching so I didn’t put her in as much. She was fine with that; she understood. I asked her once or twice in practice (if she wanted to play second base) and she said ‘Let’s not.’”

Her knee healed and back to 100 percent, Stokes hopes that Bellamy will afford her the chance to play in the infield when she is not pitching. That last thing she wants to do in college, she said, is watching from the dugout.

“Whenever I don’t pitch, I would play second base. I play there in travel ball,” Stokes said of being an everyday player. “I don’t like sitting on bench. I can’t do anything and I get kind of bored.”

During her career at Camden, Stokes shared the pitching chores with classmate Kristen Carter as a freshman before gradually finding her way as the team’s ace while Carter was moved into what became her regular role in center field for the Lady Bulldogs. By her sophomore campaign, Stokes was entrenched as the team’s top pitcher.

It was also during her sophomore campaign that the right-hander started thinking that she might be able to continue playing softball at the collegiate level.

Stokes never stopped working on her game as she developed more pitches and became one of the top throwers in the state. When Bellamy went in search of a new addition to his pitching corps, he found what he was looking for in Stokes.

“He told me that I liked how I was a spin pitcher and I could move the ball across (the plate) when I needed to,” Stokes said as to what Bellamy told her during the recruiting phase and after watching her play. “Right now, he only has left to right pitchers. 

“He also said that I was a really good second baseman and that is where I was going to be playing when I’m not pitching.”

What Bellamy did not see that day was Stokes how well she could hit the ball since she was never came to the plate in that contest, she said with a laugh.

What Bellamy will see come the start of practice in the fall is a pitcher who can move the ball around and who will keep batters guessing.

“Kennedi has really good location on her pitches. I think that she has a great rise ball and her changeup is very good. She has mastered that pitch,” Looney said. “Sometimes, it’s easy to tell when someone is going to throw a changeup but with Kennedi you can’t tell, which is a good thing.”

Looney said Stokes  has a fan in Kershaw County Schools Superintendent Dr. Frank Morgan, who enjoyed watching the Lady Bulldog hurler and liked the passion and desire which she brought to the pitching rubber.

“The thing I really like about Kennedi is that she is extremely competitive,” Looney said. “In fact, Dr. Morgan had come to a few games and he said that she ‘Looked like a librarian but she plays like an assassin.’

“He loved watching her pitch just because she was so focused and so competitive.”

Stokes did not limit herself to playing just high school softball during the spring. Like many players, she played travel softball in the off-season and faced stern competition in the summer. She said that experience will help her make a smooth transition to facing college hitters come next season.

“It’s not that much different from travel ball,” she said of going from high school to college softball.

What will change for Stokes is that in college, softball is played in the fall and spring with the winter being used for conditioning. One thing which she will have to get used to is the amount of running which will be part of the routine at USC-Salkehatchie. “I don’t run right now,” she said with a laugh before acknowledging that will not have to change.

Looney said she has no doubts as to Stokes’ being able to pick up where she left off at Camden High and becoming a success, both on and off the field, at the next level. As for softball, the Lady Bulldog head coach said the sky is the limit for her former standout.

“I think Kennedi can get even better,” Looney said. “She can work a little bit on her hitting but toward the end of our season, she really came through for us in some crucial games. She can go as far as she wants. She’s a really good ballplayer.”

Stokes’ signing at Camden High was merely ceremonial as she signed her papers with USC-Salkehatchie earlier in the winter. That being done, she said, allowed her to play her senior season without the pressure of having to impress a college coach and worrying about her future.

 “It was easier knowing that I had somewhere to go to school,” she said of having her college plans worked out. “I’m not really nervous. I’m ready to go. I was excited to sign.”

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