College softball: Keith lands a leading role


Two seasons and two national championship appearances would be a stellar college softball start for Lynsey Keith.

First, the former All-Empire Player of the Year from Maria Carrillo must help lead MidAmerica Nazarene to a conference tournament title this weekend for the Pioneers to again reach the NAIA championships.

“It will be tough. But we’ve peaked at the right time,” Keith said.

MidAmerica Nazarene opens play today in the Heart of America Athletic Conference Tournament at Overland Park, Kan. A year ago the Pioneers went in as conference co-champions and won the tournament to reach the 32-team National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics championships.

Younger this season, Mid-America Nazarene is an underdog. Keith has been a catalyst and team leader as a sophomore, coming off a strong finish her first year.

“I’ve taken the role as being a leader. I’m having to set the tone on the field and try and build other people’s confidence up,” she said.

Leading the Pioneers in batting with a .347 average, Keith also tops the team in walks and is tied for the high in doubles with 10.

Keith’s value to the team is clear. Twice this season Keith has been the MidAmerica Nazarene athlete of the week.

“I’ve been pretty consistent. I’m a lot more comfortable,” she said.

Playing shortstop again — her position in high school — helps after shifting to second base last season.

“I enjoy it a lot more. I love being in the middle of the action,” Keith said.

Even playing for a second coach in two seasons hasn’t rattled Keith. She earned another spot in the starting lineup and plays with confidence.

“It was scary at the time. But it worked out for the better,” Keith said of coach Kelly Latendresse. “She’s really tough as a coach. She pushes us really hard at practices and stuff. But we can have fun too.”

The transition to both the college game and university life — two time zones away, in Olathe, Kan. — has gone well.

MidAmerica Nazarene wasn’t the farthest destination Keith considered for college. The University of Evansville in Indiana and Cal State Monterey Bay were on her short list.

A physical education major, Keith has a 3.3 GPA. She has fit in at the small college on the edge of the Kansas City metropolitan area, though she misses the North Bay hills.

“It’s very flat. But there’s a lot of stuff to do here,” she said.

On the softball field, Keith has played a big part in the team’s success.

As a freshman, Keith was a starter who gradually adjusted to tougher pitching and a faster game. Staying strong through a much longer season also was a challenge.

“I had to learn to do better mentally and not put so much pressure on myself,” Keith said.

Playing as a freshman on a veteran squad, Keith overcame a need to prove she belonged. Softball is difficult enough.
“It’s just repetitions, having confidence all year long,” Keith said.

Contributing to the team’s success helped. A highlight was going 3-for-3 with a pair of RBI and two runs scored in MidAmerica Nazarene’s single win in the double-elimination national championships.

Over the summer Keith played on an 18-under team and followed the MidAmerica Nazarene strength and conditioning program.
The result has been a memorable season that has the Pioneers playing longer than expected.

“It would be that much more satisfying winning this tournament and going to nationals,” Keith said. “It’s been really cool.”