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Kinnaird, Nearad snap KCC records

Lexi Kinnaird and Taylor Nearad engaged in some good battles against  each other at rival high schools in Eastern Iowa, but they're teammates at Kirkwood Community College now and destroying the record book at one of the top softball programs in the country.

Kinnaird snapped the career record for victories and Nearad broke the career mark for home runs Wednesday as the second-ranked Eagles pounded Southwestern, 20-0, in five innings in the opening round of the regional tournament at Kirkwood.

Kinnaird, a right-hander from Clear Creek Amana, raised her record to 51-5 the past two years by tossing three perfect innings. She broke the old school mark of 50 victories set by Amanda Lambrecht in 2010-11.

Nearad, a center fielder from Solon, cracked the 46th home run of her remarkable career, snapping the old mark of 45 homers set by Kayla Tatge in 2012-13.

"It's awesome," Kirkwood Coach Joe Yegge remarked after seeing two career marks fall in the same game.

Kinnaird and Nearad, both sophomores, competed against each other in high school in the Wamac Conference before moving to Kirkwood last season. Kinnaird prefers having Nearad on her side these days.

"She's always been tough to pitch to. In high school and now," said Kinnaird. "She was always someone I dreaded pitching to."

Nearad was named the National Junior College Player of the Year in 2016 when she slugged 30 homers, drove in 129 runs, hit .602 and led  the country in numerous departments.

Her power numbers have dipped this season to 16 homers, but opposing pitchers learned their lesson last year: If you give the slender slugger a good pitch to hit, it's probably going to go over the fence.

"I definitely have to be more patient at the club," said Nearad, who leads the nation in hits, runs and doubles. "I'm getting walked a little bit more, and I'm getting more inside pitches."

Nearad prefers pitches that are away from her body, so she can extend her arms and use her tremendous hand-eye coordination to belt opposite-field rockets to left and left-center. Her record-setting home run came on an inside pitch that she smoked to right-center.

Believe it or not, Nearad was a slap hitter in the eighth grade before switching as a freshman in high school. She'll occasionally slap a pitch to the left side of the infield for Kirkwood, knowing shortstops will have a hard time nailing her at first base.

She was stunned by her power numbers last season and is still trying to absorb all the damage she's done in college.

"I was not expecting it at all when I came in," said Nearad, who will play at Iowa State next season. "I wasn't expecting to hit 30 home runs last year and how many I have this year, but it definitely feels  good."

Her record 46th homer came in the third inning. "I was smiling around the bases the whole time," she said.

Nearad said it took her awhile this season to realize she was not going to blast 30 home runs again this year.

"At the beginning of the year I thought I needed to do better than I  did last year," she said. "Then I realized, my season last year was  so amazing that I probably couldn't do it again."

Nearad knew she was tied for the career record and Yegge thought it  affected her somewhat in recent games. Now that the record has fallen, the coach thinks she might start to bust loose again.

"I wouldn't be shocked if she has a crazy week," he said.

Kirkwood (50-4) will face 16th-ranked Iowa Lakes (34-14) in the  winner's bracket final Thursday at 2 p.m. The double-elimination tournament ends on Friday.

Iowa Lakes topped Ellsworth, 13-5, in the other first-round game Wednesday.

Kinnaird (26-3, 1.19 ERA) pitched three perfect innings Wednesday with nine strikeouts. The Eagles took an 18-0 lead in the bottom of the third and Yegge decided to rest Kinnaird and let Angie McBeain, his  other ace, pitch the last two innings. They combined on a no-hitter.

Kinnaird said she sees "the big picture" and realized it was smart to save her arm for the rest of the tournament, but was not delighted about leaving the game.

"Lexi is a workaholic," said Yegge. "She won't let me take her out of a game. She was mad today, but I have to look at the big picture. We've got three days in a row and we're hoping to throw her."

Yegge applauded Kinnaird for breaking the record.

"It's huge to be the No. 1 pitcher with the success we've had and the victories," he said. "That's a big deal."

Kinnaird leads the nation in victories (26) and strikeouts (240) in addition to being the No. 1 winner in school history.

"It's pretty exciting," she said, "but I really wouldn't be able to do  it without the team behind me."

Kinnaird naturally wanted to be successful at Kirkwood, but was not focused on setting records or leading the nation.

"I really just focused on trying to make this team better, doing what I could at my position," she said. "My No. 1 dream when I came here was to be an All-American. That's been one of mine since I started."

Kinnaird, who will pitch at Wisconsin-Green Bay next season, appears well on her way to realizing her dream of becoming an All-American this year.

Despite all their honors and accolades, Kinnaird and Nearad both said they'd gladly trade some of their individual accomplishments if the  Eagles can win the national title this year.

"No doubt," said Kinnaird. "That's our ultimate goal and that's what we're hoping to get."

The national tournament will be held in Mississippi later this month.  The Eagles, who finished fifth last year, are heavy favorites to make it back again.

"Hopefully we come back with that trophy," said Nearad.

Yegge appreciates the "team-first" attitude on his squad.

"Since the sophomore class walked on campus last year, they've all been Team-Team-Team," he said. "That's all they worry about.

"I'm sure they want their records and all that, but their goal is to come back with some hardware. They've been like that since the day they walked on campus."

Kinnaird and Nearad were not the only stars for Kirkwood Wednesday. Maddie Hansen and McBeain both walloped grand-slam home runs and  DoniRae Mayhew blasted a three-run homer. Mayhew went 3-for-3 and McBeain drove in six runs.

Hansen, a Cedar Rapids Jefferson grad and All-American catcher, leads  the nation with 88 RBIs.

Southwestern    000 00 - 0 0 3
Kirkwood        378 2x - 20 18 1

W - Kinnaird. L - Schiefen.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 04 May 2017 05:35 )  

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