ASHLAND Kaythan Baer was “freaking out,” she said.
Following Ashland outfielder Tabitha Cassidy’s season-ending injury in mid-April, Kittens coach Scott Ingram turned to an athletic freshman to fill the void.
Baer was a bundle of nerves at first. Then, she uttered a monological message.
“I’m like, I’ve been playing this game since I was little; I can do it,” Baer said.
The left fielder has been exceptional in her varsity debut season.
Baer was a combined 8 for 9 with six runs and eight RBIs in her first three games as a regular player. From April 18-May 14, she hit safely in nine of 11 contests.
Primarily a singles hitter, Baer is batting .411 with 14 RBIs and nine stolen bases. She has struck out in just 7.9% of her plate appearances, ranking third on the team behind Ruthie Paholsky (5.6%) and Kenzi Robinson (6.1%) in that category.
Baer typically bats eighth, which is where Ingram will likely pencil her in for today’s state quarterfinals matchup with Warren East in Lexington at 1 p.m.
“My dream ever since I was little was to play at Kentucky’s softball field because that’s where I want to go (to college),” Baer said. “Being able to play there is great, and in my freshman year? That’s amazing, too.”
While undesirable circumstances increased Baer’s playing time, Ingram already had enough confidence in the ninth-grader to toss her into the figurative fire. He’d played her defensively at second base in Myrtle Beach when Maddy Greene was hurt.
“I never really had any hesitation as far as putting her in at some point,” Ingram said. “She’s not really been a surprise, but I wasn’t sure she would be as productive as she’s been.
“It’s not always been with doubles off the fence or something like that,” added the coach. “She just finds a way to get on. She puts the bat on the ball and finds a way to get on.”
Ashland’s five seniors embraced Baer, bringing her into the fold seamlessly. Shortstop Zoë Ingram assisted in the acclimation process when Baer stepped in for Greene back in early April. The always-encouraging Mykayla Akers said she’s amazed at Baer’s ability — it’s been on full display with a bevy of remarkable catches in left field, too.
“As a senior, to see a freshman do that, it’s very exciting,” Akers said. “Sometimes you don’t expect much from your freshmen, but I’m not like that. I expect everybody on this team to go out there and put 100% in and work wherever you’re at. Kaythan’s not afraid to do that. She’ll put in all of her effort. She’s very hard on herself because she’s so good and because she cares.”
Akers said Baer “has definitely done a lot for this team, probably more than she knows.”
Ingram pointed to the seniors’ unselfishness and positive, accepting attitudes as some of the main reasons why the Kittens (25-11) are representing the 16th Region and Semi-State 8 at John Cropp Stadium today.
“They’re not stereotypical seniors, like, we’re going to get all the glory and accolades,” Ingram said of Zoë Ingram, Haylie Haney, Ruthie Paholsky, Greene and Akers. “They’re the first ones to pick the younger girls up when they quote-unquote failed. If we don’t have that, it’s a different season.”
“All the seniors are always cheering everyone on, saying, ‘good job’ and ‘keep it going,’” Baer said.
Baer, Camryn Cassidy, Tabitha Cassidy, Taylor Craft, Lauren Spears and Robinson will comprise the starring cast of Kittens next season. Spears (.465 batting average, 18 steals, seven home runs, 36 RBIs, eight triples, 51 runs) is already one of the region’s top catchers as a sophomore.
According to Ingram, Baer will likely be a starting shortstop in the future.
“It makes you happy, as a senior, that when you leave, you have girls like that who are going to be here to keep doing work for this program,” Akers said.
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