(DAVID JENKINS ~ Sikeston Standard Democrat)
Just ask the teammates and coach of Kelly senior Londyn Backfisch.
After finishing second in the state in Class 2 last year, the Hawks return their speedy leadoff hitter.
"Very useful," Kelly coach Rhonda Ratledge said about Backfisch's speed. "Especially with her thinking abilities, you may be able to slap or you may have the speed, but you also have to be able to think with that. She's been a varsity player since her freshman year, so she's definitely got the experience on the varsity level. But she came in with all that, so that helps. It kind of comes natural to her."
Backfisch, who plays shortstop, tallied 41 steals her junior season to go along with 28 hits. She went 2 for 3 with two steals in the state title game.
However, she doesn't get on base like most speedsters. Instead of slapping from the left side of the plate, Backfisch bunts right-handed, a tribute to her quickness.
"We tried switching her to the left a little last year," Ratledge said. "But she was kind of back and forth, but mostly felt solid from the right side."
As quick as Backfisch is, she will be battling more than just opponents this year. She tore her ACL during the basketball season last year, which kept her off the track and shut down during the summer.
"It was one of the hardest things I've had to do," she said. "I went to therapy 56 times, but I figured I might as well bust my butt and get out here and help the team."
Backfisch was cleared to return to sports three days before the fall practices started. She has adapted well to her return.
"I was timid coming out here," Backfisch said. "But the coaches sat down with me and said, 'You know the team needs you.' So they made me get out there and field grounders and get dirty. It's frustrating, though, because I know all the stuff I was able to do, but now I have to work double time to get it all back."
Backfisch isn't the only quick player the Hawks boast.
Junior third baseman Haley Glastetter swiped 20 bases last season and will be another tough out on the basepaths.
Glastetter knows that getting on is key to the Hawks' success.
"I use my speed so I can take advantage and get into scoring position," Glastetter said. "People behind me will drive me in."
Having both speedsters wreaking havoc on the bases is a major advantage for the Hawks.
"It kind of speeds up the game, it seems like," Ratledge said. "When you have the speed of the first couple of runners and whey they're able to get on, it's kind of intimidating for the other team because they are thinking, 'Oh my gosh, what are we in for now.' And you want that. You want the other team to be kind of scared of you."
While Kelly features speed on offense, it also knows what it takes to shut down teams that feature slap hitters.
"The shortstop is very crucial," Ratledge said. "You can't really sneak in too much with a slap. The shortstop has to be ready for what the third baseman misses. She has to be able to snag it and be very versatile, and that's where Londyn comes in."
Danielle Dock, the starting pitcher for the Hawks, says she tries to key in on the batter's weaknesses if she is trying to slap.
"I try and know the batters before I go up there," Dock said. "If they're going to run out and try and slap it, I'm going to throw outside. I just try and know their weaknesses and get a grounder and trust my team."
With speed and defense covered, the Hawks will try to improve on last season's second-place finish in Class 2.
"I look at the end goal, which is state," Backfisch said. "To be honest, if I tore my ACL again today, I would still be happy to be able to get out here and do it again my senior year."