By Les Dixon / Staff Writer
LONDON — After wrapping up an impressive softball career at the University of Kentucky by helping the Lady Wildcats reach their first-ever College World Series, former South Laurel star and 2010 Miss Softball returned to a place where her career began — the South London Little League Complex.
The 2010 Gatorade Player of the Year signed autographs and took pictures with many of the All-Star players during Saturday’s 9-10 and 11-12 year-old Fastpitch District Tournaments. She also threw out the first pitch to signify the start of both tournaments.
“This is just great,” Gaines said with a big smile. “To be asked to come out here and do this, is really something I’ll never forget. Everyone has been so nice, and it’s also been fun. This is just a great experience for me. Franklin Stivers asked me and my dad a couple of weeks ago if I would like to do this, and this was just a great opportunity for me.
“It’s really awesome, just really special,” she added. “I can’t even count the number of times that I have come out here and played, and to be able to come back here, where it began is really special. This never gets old (signing autographs). I’m very fortunate to be able to do this. To have little girls come up to you and ask you for an autograph or have a picture with you, makes you feel like you’re a rock star.”
Gaines turned in an impressive senior campaign for Kentucky, batting .297 with 43 hits, seven home runs and 36 RBI while helping the Lady Wildcats to a program-best 50-19 record.
“My career definitely ended on a high note,” she said. “Of course, the first couple of years were rough, but that just made my final year more special.
“I couldn’t have planned it out any better, “ Gaines added. “It was very big to be able to play in the College World Series,” she added. “I always grew up watching that with hopes of maybe one day being able to play in it and to actually get the opportunity was huge — it was perfect.”
Gaines said the experience at the College World Series, which was held in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, was a great learning experience.
“It was a little bit different,” she said. “I’ve never played in that big of a crowd before. I was a little nervous. The atmosphere was awesome. I thought we had a chance to win it. We thought we deserved to be there and had as good of a chance as anyone else. We just came up short.”
Gaines put up impressive numbers record numbers as a Lady Cardinal at South Laurel, tallying a 52-game hitting streak to break the Kentucky High School state record – the streak is the second longest in national history at the high school level. As a senior, she owned a .634 batting average with 17 home runs, 27 doubles and 54 runs scored. Gaines was also a three-time All-State performer while owning state records, including 83 hits and 27 doubles in 2010 for a single-season and career records with for hits (349) and doubles (104). She also owns the Kentucky state record with five consecutive games with a home run, Gaines gave some advice for anyone that has a dream of playing high school or college softball.
“Just keep working hard and never give up,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you come from. If you set your mind to something, you can do it.”
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