Behind league powerhouse Mathis, top-ranked Lakota West heading into softball postseason with momentum

Lakota West junior KK Mathis is one of the top hitters and pitchers in the Greater Miami Conference. Mathis recently hit her 11th home run to become the single-season leader in program history. Through Thursday's games, she was 13-1 with a 1.24 ERA in the pitcher's circle. Lou Spinazzola/CONTRIBUTED
Lakota West junior KK Mathis is one of the top hitters and pitchers in the Greater Miami Conference. Mathis recently hit her 11th home run to become the single-season leader in program history. Through Thursday's games, she was 13-1 with a 1.24 ERA in the pitcher's circle. Lou Spinazzola/CONTRIBUTED

Junior one of the top pitchers, hitters in the Greater Miami Conference

KK Mathis remembers being at a dinner last spring with the Lakota West High School softball team when the Firebirds found out their season would not be played.

It was a moment of disappointment for the team, and especially the seniors, but Mathis, then a sophomore, couldn’t help feeling like for her it was a blessing in disguise. At that time, the standout pitcher and hitter had the beginnings of an L6 stress fracture in her back and the shutdown meant built-in recovery time.

Mathis used the time off to heal before resuming activity last May, and now she’s pitching and hitting better than ever. The junior leads the Greater Miami Conference regular starting pitchers with a 1.24 ERA, 12 home runs and 43 RBIs, as the Firebirds are 23-1 overall, 16-0 in the GMC and ranked atop the Ohio High School Fastpitch Coaches Association poll in Division I.

“Losing my second year, I knew it was going to be gone anyway, but it gave me extra drive because I knew I had to work extra hard to get back to where I was,” Mathis said. “And there was a lot of fear in that same mindset, not knowing if I would be the same. I knew God would take care of me and had a plan for me.”

Mathis is 13-1 with seven shutouts, 125 strikeouts and 14 walks over 85 innings, and she is hitting .603 with 24 of her 35 hits going for extra bases. As a freshman in 2019, she was 13-6 with a 1.90 ERA, 108 strikeouts and 43 walks on the mound, to go along with a .354 batting average and three home runs when she was at the plate.

While she deflects the credit for her incredible stats to her team and the talent around her, coach Keith Castner can see a difference in her development from freshman year until now.

“She takes charge, wants the ball in her hands,” Castner said. “She worked hard since the last time she pitched for Lakota West (as a freshman). She plays on a good summer team and she’s the type that wants to up her game in all areas, not just hitting and pitching, but fielding and everything. She’s been a big-time team payer too. She wants to be a leader and she is.

“Her work habits just help her because she’s very athletic. … She’s continued working to develop all her pitches and picking her spots. She’s loose on the mound and knows she’s got a team that’s going to back her up. And they do.”

Mathis said this team just has a special chemistry she’s never experienced anywhere else, but that especially is true with her catcher, fellow junior Kendall Forren.

Forren and Mathis have played softball together since they were in the 11-and-under division with the Ohio Stingrays. They played middle school ball together, have been on three different travel teams with one another and now are in their third varsity season as batterymates.

“We are eye to eye on everything we do as far as pitching and catching,” Mathis said. “We’re pretty close. It’s awesome to know if I’m having an off day, she knows how to calm me down, and I can calm her down if she’s having a bad day. She knows when I’m in my head, and we have a good balance of knowing what is good for us. We provide each other with good stability. Having that relationship with your catcher is extremely important, and Kendall for me, I don’t think she gets as much credit as she should.”

West has an outstanding offense and solid defense to help back up Mathis on the mound as well, and she’s doing her part at the plate too. Going into the weekend, junior Belle Hummel, the school’s all-time stolen base leader, was leading the GMC with a .625 average, and junior Molly Grace followed with a .616 average. Ariah Peregrina adds 36 RBIs, ranking just behind Mathis.

That’s the fun part for Mathis, more so than feeling a sense of accomplishment for herself coming back from the back injury.

“It’s fun with this team coming out and already winning (22 of 23 games),” Mathis said. “Everyone loves each other, so for us to have as much success as we have and to know we can continue the way we are, I think it’s a pretty good thing. I’m not really big on what I do. I don’t like talking about myself because it’s a team game, and nobody wins by themselves. To watch this team get after it and produce as well as we are, that makes it special.”

The Firebirds, who were on the verge of claiming the GMC title with three games left going into Friday, hope to continue their regular-season success into a deep postseason run. They have the No. 1 seed in the Division I South Sectional and begin tournament play Wednesday against either Western Hills or Colerain.

“We’re hitting well – our team average and on-base percentage are up there – and we’ve limited our errors, and then you know you’ve got a pitcher you can count on like KK,” Castner said. “We have a couple other girls that pitch that are 5-0, 2-0, so it’s important to know we have other people that can throw, but she’s ready for it and having a pitcher like that is a huge advantage. We’re excited for the tournament.”