Pinch-Hitting For The Hokies

Jonathan Schwab
Pinch-Hitting For The Hokies
Pinch-Hitting For The Hokies
Pinch-Hitting For The Hokies
RCHS Grad Talks About Playing Division I Softball

Known for her powerful hitting, home runs and hard work as a catcher at Rockbridge County High School, Kayleigh Addington is about to begin her junior year at Virginia Tech. a 2017 RC graduate, Addington is a member of the Hokies’ softball team. She found out during the winter of her senior year in high school that she would play for the Hokies, as an invited walk-on. Although she has appeared in just five games during her first two years, mostly to pinch-hit, she said she’s learned a lot of new skills, including adapting to fast Division I pitchers.

Wearing No. 31, she has also been a part of one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA history. After VT head coach Pete D’Amour replaced Scott Thomas following Addington’s freshman season, the Hokies improved by 24 wins, finishing the 2019 season with a 47-11 record, including a 20-4 mark in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Hokies won the ACC regular-season title before they were upset by N.C. State in the ACC quarterfinals, but they bounced back by qualifying for the regional playoffs.

In the first round, VT lost to Kentucky 8-1. The Hokies then beat Illinois 5-1 before ending their season with an 11-1 loss to Kentucky in the regional finals.

Addington, 20, said the highlight of the year was the watch party when she and her teammates found out they were going to Kentucky for the regional playoffs. Another highlight of her career was defeating Michigan during her freshman year.

Of VT’s turnaround, Addington said there was certainly “a lot of improvement. It felt like a completely different team.”

Addington gave several reasons for choosing to go to VT. “I’ve practically grown up there, going to football games since I was really little,” she said. “It’s close to home. It felt like home.”

She is grateful for the support of her parents, Shawn and Adele, who have attended all of her games at VT. Addington is an only child.

At VT, Addington and her teammates practice about 25 hours a week during the fall and spring. She said they typically have a three-hour practice in the afternoon and an hour of either lifting or conditioning, depending on the day, sometimes in the morning and sometimes later in the day. In the offseason, the Hokies’ players practice about eight hours a week, with most of that individually.

“The early morning conditioning is rough, but when you think back on it, it’s one of the things that I really like about it,” Addington said. “If you go through even the less enjoyable parts of it with your teammates, it makes it a lot more enjoyable.”

Addington said her softball teammates have great camaraderie. “They’re my family there,” she said, adding that they are her social life. She does enjoy living on her own in an apartment, though.

The Hokies have great fan support for softball, Addington said. VT does “a great job of getting the word out about games,” she said. “We’ll have good crowds.” She noted that the UVa/VT softball three-game series, which the Hokies swept, drew a lot of fans, and it was during the weekend of VT’s spring football game.

Addington credits RC head coach Keith Ruley with getting her ready for the rigors of collegiate Division I sports. Ruley, who has been the Wildcats’ head softball coach for eight years, had winter workouts with his players that included strength training and conditioning. “He prepared us really well for that,” she said. “It was very similar.”

She said keeping up with classes and managing her schedule can be a challenge, but she’s managed to make the Dean’s List and the ACC Academic Honor Roll, sometimes taking online courses during her school breaks. The softball team has a study hall at VT’s football stadium, allowing Addington and her teammates quiet time to focus.

Addington is majoring in meteorology, hoping to work for the National Weather Service, and she could also see herself coaching high school softball and/ or travel softball. She has done volunteer weather projects, but Addington enjoyed a break from classwork this summer, spending time with her family in Lexington and going back and forth between Lexington and Blacksburg to attend summer softball practices.

At VT, Addington praised D’Amour and his assistant coaches, pitching coach Doug Gillis and Kirin Kumar, who works with base running and infielding. She said they make the practices fun, with special events for the team, including scavenger hunts and a weekend spent in cabins in the woods. Likewise, Addington’s coaches had words of praise for her.

“Kayleigh is the ultimate team player,” D’Amour said. “She does everything that is asked and expected of her, and she does it with a smile on her face. Kayleigh’s biggest contribution comes in practice. She’s always willing to catch bullpens and catch in practice games. That can be a thankless job, and she does it with enthusiasm.”

“You could ask anyone associated with our program about Kayleigh from players, coaches, tutors, administrators, anyone associated with Virginia Tech softball, and you wouldn’t hear a single negative word about her,” D’Amour added. “I’m thankful she’s a part of our program.”

Ruley, whose daughter Madison played softball with Addington in high school and will start her freshman year at VT, had similar compliments about Addington. “Kayleigh was just the ultimate young lady to coach,” he said. “She took whatever you told her and just smiled.”

Coach Ruley added that Addington has great hand-eye coordination and is “very unselfish,” which showed in the 64 times she was walked in high school. Ruley said his best memory of Addington was when she hit a home run in each of her first four games as a freshman. “Tremendous power and just hit the ball so hard,” he said.

During her high school career, Addington hit 20 home runs and recorded 121 hits, which was a school record until Madison Ruley and Kennedy Clemmer finished their high school careers this spring with 123 hits each. Addington’s batting average was .450; she had 101 RBIs, and her on-base percentage was .556.

She made the all-district first team three times, was named to the all-region first team once and the all-region second team once, and she was named all-state first team once. During the summers, she competed for the Rockbridge Crush Fast-pitch Travel Ball team.

VT softball and classes keep Adding-ton busy, but she did get back to RC to see the softball team in a playoff game last year.

In addition to playing softball, Addington played trumpet for the marching band at RC. At VT, she is in the campus band, performing mostly for fun. “I just keep playing,” she said. “It’s good to have an escape from softball and class,” she said.

Addington said she does see other RC alums who are also Hokies on campus. “I’ll see them walking to class and say ‘Hi,’ ” she said. “It’s a big school, but seeing familiar faces, it gets really small.”

Addington has sound advice for high school athletes considering playing sports in college. “If it’s something you want to do, just go for it,” she said. “If you get the opportunity once, you don’t want to miss it. Even if you have doubts, it’s worth it.”

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