Sophomore pitcher follows in sister’s footsteps

Sophomore pitcher follows in sister’s footsteps

Sophomore pitcher follows in sister’s footsteps
April 06
23:59 2015

Reece Waddell / Staff Writer

Since she was a little girl, Kenzie Grimes has fought against the odds. As the youngest of three children in the Grimes household, the sophomore pitcher was often overshadowed by her older siblings.

Kenzie and her sister, Caitlin, were particularly competitive with each other. Caitlin was a catcher for the Mean Green softball team from 2009-2012, before Kenzie was a pitcher for the team.

“With us, her, our older brother and I, everything was a competition,” Caitlin said. “It didn’t matter what it was. Playing ball in the backyard, whatever. Kenzie always tried to beat us.”

Both Kenzie and Caitlin describe their relationship as extremely close. Four years apart, Kenzie got the chance to watch Caitlin play and study the game. When they were young, Caitlin said everything was a contest, and despite being the youngest, Kenzie was always determined to win.

Kenzie is no stranger to success. Originally from California, she was a standout player during high school and was a three-time MVP and three-time first team all-league selection. She said she chose to come to North Texas because she was comfortable with the program, thanks to her sister.

“I was familiar with the area, familiar with the college and familiar with the program. But, the biggest reason I came here was because I enjoyed the girls on the team,” Kenzie said.

Caitlin, who was first recruited to North Texas when she was just 15 years old, echoed her sister’s thoughts about coming to Denton. She said North Texas was the first school that contacted her, and despite visiting other, more prestigious programs, North Texas felt like home.

“It was a combination of things,” Caitlin said. “But mainly, I felt welcomed there. I had a really good relationship with the coaching staff and the girls. We were a family. I didn’t feel like I had that bond anywhere else.”

During her senior season, Caitlin batted .317 with a .512 slugging percentage. Because she was a catcher, Caitlin would catch Kenzie on a regular basis and, according to Kenzie, offer up some harsh advice if she needed it.

“My sister has had a very big impact on my softball career,” Kenzie said. “She would stand behind the dish and if I threw a bad pitch she would chuck the ball back at my shins or yell at me. If I made a mistake she was on me and pushing me to get better. But believe me, she knew what she was talking about.”

Kenzie began the season as a starter, but has moved into the closer role as of late. Head coach Tracey Kee said the move is for the better and that she is proud of the way Kenzie has embraced the change.

“Kenzie is a fighter,” Kee said. “Not many people are like that, and you don’t see a lot of closers in softball. That’s just such a baseball thing. But overall she’s done a really nice job of coming into tough situations and getting us out of jams.”

So far this season, Kenzie has posted a 3-4 record to go along with a 5.35 ERA and two saves. For the most part, she insists she is not worried about her numbers and that her performances should speak for themselves.

“One thing my sister would always tell me is, ‘Don’t worry about your stats’,” Kenzie said. “I’ve always just tried to go out there and do my job.”

Since graduating in 2012, Caitlin became the director of operations for the University of Louisiana-Lafayette softball program. Because of her job and distance from her sister, Caitlin said it makes watching Kenzie play that much more difficult. She also said she is aware of Kenzie’s struggles so far this season, but she expects Kenzie to continue to get better.

“Kenzie’s biggest asset is she is a competitor,” Caitlin said. “She’s a spunky girl. She’s going to go out there every day and give it all she’s got. In time she will get better.”

Because of how young she is, Kee said there in no immediate pressure for her to emerge as the team’s top pitching option.

“Right now, we’re really just pitching by committee,” Kee said. “We’re looking for someone to come out and give us a solid start or whatever we need. And Kenzie is only a sophomore, so we don’t need her to step up and be that person right away, but I think over time she can definitely become that.”

In the offseason, Kenzie devotes hours both in the weight room and the circle. She said she focused on her velocity as well as being able to spin the ball more efficiently. Senior outfielder Kat Strunk said Kenzie’s improvement from last year has been very apparent.

“She’s done a lot better this year,” Strunk said. “She’s gotten a lot more pitching time this year and she really worked this offseason. She’s spinning the ball well and doing what she is supposed to.”

Many who know Kenzie seem to think her personality is one of her most valuable qualities. Strunk said she believes Kenzie will grow as a player and realize her full potential.

“Off the field, Kenzie is an awesome person,” Strunk said. “She’s a natural leader and I fully expect for her to become more of a leader on the field in the coming years.”

Kenzie said she will continue to get better as a pitcher, but said her job comes down to one thing.

“I have to come in and do my job every night, which is shutting down the other team,” she said.

Featured Image: Sophomore pitcher Kenzie Grimes whips the ball above her head before launching it toward home plate during an exhibition game last season. Photo by Edward Balusek – Visuals Editor

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