Kelley Lynch and some of her East Coweta High School teammates were handing out awards to grade schoolers at the end of a baseball camp Thursday when Jennie Finch, a two-time Olympic softball pitcher and one of Lynch’s childhood idols, emerged from a nearby equipment shed.
"I was shocked," Lynch says.
But her surprise turned to joy when Finch, holding a trophy, announced that the future Washington Husky had been named Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year for 2018-19.
The award is the highest honor for a high school softball player, given annually to recognize outstanding athletic excellence, high standards of academic achievement and exemplary character for high school athletes.
"She has a game face," Finch says. "She’s very even-keeled, but we got a big smile out of her, so I think we surprised her."
Lynch was dominant this past season for East Coweta (Sharpsburg, Ga.), leading her team to a 32-2 record and a second straight championship after posting a 17-0 record with a 0.27 ERA on the mound. She also hit .436 with three home runs and 25 RBIs and played first base. Softball America has Lynch ranked as the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2019.
Off the field, Lynch is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and she’s also volunteered locally on behalf of the Special Olympics the U.S. Marine Corps Toys for Tots program and youth softball teams.
Sports Illustrated spoke with Lynch on Thursday to ask her about the award, how she envisions herself fitting in at the next level and more.
Sports Illustrated: What does this award mean to you?
Kelley Lynch: It’s a crazy feeling, this is the biggest award I’ve ever won. It’s just really encouraging for me to keep working hard and see where I can go after this.
SI: How do you see yourself fitting in at Washington?
KL: Hopefully I’ll go in there and get some pitching and hitting time, but I’m just looking forward to getting in there and learning more about the game. Hopefully growing myself and getting better.
SI: What was it like watching Washington play in the College World Series this past year, knowing you could be on that stage in a year?
KL: I’ve built relationships and friendships with girls on the team, so they’re some of my good friends now. Being able to text them before and after games, you just feel more connected to the team. Knowing I’ll be there next year, it’s a cool feeling.
SI: Why did you ultimately choose Washington?
KL: I really liked the landscape of the place and the people there. Obviously they have an amazing coaching staff and they’ve built a solid program. They know how to win, and the people there. I just fell in love with everything about it.
SI: What motivates you?
KL: My sister played softball, so she’s always been a motivator for me, she’s four years older than me. Also, my dad used to coach me playing softball, and he passed away in 2012. That’s always been a motivator for me, to play for him.
SI: What are you passionate about off the field?
KL: Most of the volunteer work I do is with dogs and little kids. I love volunteering at dog shelters because I’ve always loved dogs since I was young. With little kids, whether it’s with softball, or I was working a baseball camp this week, people that are new to the game or wanting to learn, I just really love working with the younger generations and helping mold them to be future players in the sport.