Creating a softball legacy

Junior pitcher Kelsey Nunley poses for a photo at the Softball Facility on Monday, January 26, 2015 in in Lexington, KY. Photo by Michael Reaves


By Joshua Huff

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Junior Kelsey Nunley made headlines last spring with a postseason performance that cemented her status as one of UK softball’s greatest pitchers, but her prowess on the field began with a Wiffle ball bat when she was 2 years old.

“When she was two she could whack it,” said Randy Nunley, Kelsey Nunley’s father. “I told my wife she was going to be something special.”

Kelsey was named to the 2014 Women’s College World Series All-Tournament team and opened this season as one of 50 players on the National Player of the Year watch list.

Unassuming and humble off the mound, she is an intimidating presence on it.

She pitched herself into Kentucky lore last season after she manned the mound for every SEC and NCAA Tournament game for UK. It was a feat that carried the Cats to their first Women’s College World Series, where they were eliminated after a heartbreaking loss to Baylor.

“She was going to be special”

Her life as an athlete started with her first word, “ball.”

“I started her playing baseball with the boys when she was four,” her father said. “When she was five and six, out of 164 players she made the All-Stars with the boys. So I knew she was going to be special.”

She developed toughness early on, which transitioned into softball when she was 7 years old. When she was nine, Kelsey approached her father wanting to pitch.

“He was like ‘Yeah, you know, if you put the work in and you’ll give it your all, all the time, then that’s what we’ll do,’” Randy Nunley said.

Her father knew in Kelsey’s third game that he had made the right decision – she pitched a perfect game.

“When she started playing, she started getting no-hitters right away so I started keeping up with them, “ he said.

“We love winning”

Nunley’s father was instrumental in her development. He hired a pitching coach from the University at Chattanooga when she was 9 years old, and took time to catch for her.

“We love sports, we love winning,” her father added. “My wife, she’s as competitive as Kelsey and me, probably more so, where I wouldn’t hurt Kelsey’s feelings she’d tell it to her a little rougher.”

But it was on the mound during middle school, and during the long summer afternoons where Kelsey chiseled away the rough edges in route to becoming UK’s most dominant pitcher.

“She wanted to beat you”

When her father decided to move the family to Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., everything changed for Kelsey.

“She came in as a freshman and actually she ended up starting some for me at the end of the season,” Hall of Fame high school coach Clifford Kirk said. “She proceeded to get better each year because she got bigger, stronger and more experienced.”

She always wanted to do the best she could, he reflected.

“She always wanted to be proficient at whatever it was,” Kirk added. “She wanted to beat you. If you were shooting marbles she wanted to beat you.”

“I’m here for a reason”

When she was 14 years old, Kelsey received her first collegiate softball offer from Florida.

But the decision ultimately came down to Tennessee or UK.

She ended up at UK and it was the Cats’ head coach, Rachel Lawson, who initially impressed her.

“When I came on my visit, I loved Coach Lawson to be honest,” Kelsey said. “I know it’s weird but I thought she had a great personality and I’d never played for a female coach, so that was different. I was excited about that. It just kind of happened and I think I’m here for a reason.”

As Kelsey has transitioned into a dominant college pitcher for UK, it has been the coaching of Lawson that has helped her blossom.

“She’s been awesome. She knows how to push my buttons,” Nunley said. “I think that makes me a better player and person in general, as far as grades and softball.”

“She deserves it”

Kelsey’s legacy doesn’t just include her time on the diamond but her time off it.

“Whatever publicity she gets, she deserves it,” Kirk said. “She’s one of the few humble kids that come through. I don’t know if she knows she’s as good as she is.”

It was during a camp that Kirk runs for kids in sixth through ninth grade that truly exemplifies the person that Nunley is.

“Each day the kids would ask if Kelsey was coming today,” Kirk said. “On the third day she did show, of course I saw her get out of her car, and the kids spotted her and they started punching each other and talking to each other. It was a big thing for them for her to come.”

Without softball in the Olympics, playing past college has become difficult for many.

The communications major has aspirations after her playing days at UK are done to either coach college softball or start her own business giving pitching lessons.

“I felt really blessed to get all the help that I did,” Nunley said. “So I want to help the girls do the same thing.”