This is the latest in a series of player profiles featuring the Pulaski County Lady Softball seniors. Asked about the group as a whole, Coach Gina Miano said she’d welcome them to her staff as assistant coaches any time they wanted.
“Absolutely! They’re first-class young ladies. It’s absolutely been the most fun I’ve ever had working with this group in terms of coming in every day and giving me all they’ve got. And their leadership filters down the juniors and sophomores. They are a contagious group of positive energy. I look forward to coaching them every day,” Miano said.
In fact, hanging around this group, Miano said, would make for a very interesting reality show.
“Hanging around them would be a hoot!” she said. “You never know what Kelli (Duncan) is going to say. You never know how many times Sara Wright is going to get hit.”
By Ben Hanneman
Remember the scene in Terminator when Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character emerges from the flames of an exploding tractor trailer totally unscathed and looking, shall we say, rather determined?
Well, that one scene alone may well be the best depiction of the kind of senior season Kelli Duncan had, especially coming out of basketball season and heading into the warmer weather typical of softball season.
Not long ago a torn ACL threatened to keep Duncan from suiting up for her final basketball season – her favorite sport by the way – and maybe even longer. In fact, at the time even she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to play anything ever again.
“I thought maybe I’d be back in time for the districts, but I didn’t know,” Duncan said.
And if it weren’t for a gesture of good will on senior night near the end of that season Duncan may well have gone scoreless on the court maybe for the first time ever.
Instead, to start the game both coaches agreed to let her score an uncontested layup, which made Duncan blush at first.
“It was embarrassing because they let me score,” Duncan said, ever the competitor.
Since then, though, she’s come to appreciate the class behind the decision.
“It was really nice,” she admitted.
Then, in her own version of “I’ll be back,” Duncan rehabbed her knee and returned to the diamond for one more go-round.
“She is the terminator,” said head softball coach Gina Miano. “She does just keep coming after you.”
And her effort paid handsomely this softball season as the youngest of three children born to Gayle and Steve Duncan ranked among the team leaders in several statistical categories, including batting average.
In 16 regular season games – one less than the rest of the starters because she tweeked her ACL late in the year – Duncan recorded 19 hits, including one double, in 44 official at-bats (.432), second only to the Cougars’ all-world first baseman and 2013 River Ridge District Player of the Year Sara Wright (.582).
Duncan scored 13 runs this season which ranked her and Chelsea Golden third on the team with behind Jordan Chrisley and Wright. She was also second on the team in on-base percentage, reaching base 48 percent behind Wright (.657).
With her high school career now behind her, Duncan said she’ll miss her “best friends” on the team.
Her most memorable moment, though, was not something many players would readily admit to or talk about.
“It was when I fell over the fence,” Duncan said. “I always wanted to climb the fence and catch a ball. In one game a ball was hit to me, but I didn’t hear anybody say ‘Fence!’ and I just kept running. All of a sudden I just fell.”
Did you make the catch?
“No. I just got up and tried to put the fence back up, but it wouldn’t stay. Everybody was laughing,” she said.
During her career while many of her teammates would usually lay off the first pitch Duncan made a living off of at least swinging at them.
“I usually do (swing), even if it’s high because I like high pitches. Usually pitchers are taught to pitch a strike on the first one, so I’ll swing,” Duncan said.
As for whether she’s a better player now than when she first started at PCHS, Duncan says, “Definitely,” particularly on defense.
“I’m better at judging the ball,” she said.
She’s also improved her work ethic.
“I’m a hard worker. I’m lazy, but I’m not as lazy as I used to be,” she added.
So what lessons has she learned from Coach Miano that she’ll take with her after high school?
“How to stay mentally focused. She always had us doing deep breathing exercises to calm us down and stuff. She is so funny. She’s mean when she needs to be and funny when she needs to be.”
Asked to pick the strongest part of her game Duncan pointed to her attitude.
“I don’t let things bother me,” she said.
Later this fall, Duncan plans to enroll at New River Community College where she’d like to study either physical therapy or social work.
“I like being able to interact with people and help them get back to full strength,” she said.
To her younger teammates, she had this sage piece of advice:
“Do what you can now and have fun now because it will all be over soon – too soon.”
As for future coaching plans Duncan said she’s thinking about possibly coaching basketball, but there’s nothing definite lined up yet.
“Coach (Jason) Grubb has asked me to help out, but I don’t know if I can do it as soon as I get out, but we’ll see.”
Eat your heart out, Aaah-nold.