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Hanover pitcher hungry for postseason opportunity

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Jennings County graduate Leah Kemmerer set Hanover College school records with 14 wins and 131 strikeouts this season. / Submitted photo
Jennings County graduate Leah Kemmerer set Hanover College school records with 14 wins and 131 strikeouts this season. / Submitted photo

Leah Kemmerer put a dent in the Hanover College softball record book this year, but the season didn’t end the way she and her teammates wanted.

The Panthers finished sixth in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, but only the top four make the league tournament. That meant Hanover didn’t have a shot at winning the title and reaching the NCAA Division III tourney.

The premature end to this season is fueling Kemmerer, a junior from Jennings County, and her teammates to come back next year and win the HCAC championship.

“I would love to do that,” Kemmerer said. “Getting into the conference is going to be a goal that we’re going to have to have because we’ve been out of it the last two years. My goal as a senior is going to be to be a leader and get as many wins as we can and get into the (NCAA) tournament.”

Kemmerer did her part this season, setting school records with 14 wins and 131 strikeouts.

“I try not to think about (the wins record) too much,” Kemmerer said. “I didn’t know what the record was until I tied it.”

This spring, Kemmerer went 14-4 with a 2.75 ERA in earning All-HCAC honors for the second consecutive year.

“It feels good,” Kemmerer said. “We play a lot of good teams and face a lot of good players. It’s an honor for other coaches to nominate me for that.”

When she isn’t pitching, Kemmerer bats as the designated hitter. She usually hit fourth or fifth in the lineup and batted .302 with five doubles, a home run and 14 RBIs.

“She had a huge season for us,” Hanover coach Megan Carlton said.

Kemmerer went 9-7 with 1.85 ERA as a sophomore in her first year of college softball.

The Kemmerer file

Name: Leah Kemmerer

High school: Jennings County

College: Hanover

Year: Just completed junior year

Major: Elementary education

Minor: History

Softball position: Pitcher/DH

Stats: 14-4, 2.75 ERA, 131 strikeouts; .302 average, 1 HR, 14 RBIs

Honors: All-Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference, Hanover Scholar-Athlete Award

“Last year was kind of hard because it was my first year actually playing college softball, and I didn’t know what to expect,” Kemmerer said. “I got a lot of the jitters out, and this year went pretty well for me.”

After having elbow surgery in the fall of her freshman year, Kemmerer missed her entire first softball season. She also missed her sophomore year at Jennings County because of elbow surgery.

“I throw a lot every single day when we’re in season and some when we’re out of season,” Kemmerer said. “We lift weights, and we work out the whole offseason, so my arm has gotten a lot stronger. I’m in a lot better shape, so I can handle a lot more.”

Carlton said Kemmerer throws in mid-60s range in a conference where the average pitcher throws in the mid-50s.

“She’s definitely one of the fastest speed-wise in our conference,” Carlton said. “She has a very good riseball and fastball. She’s very good at the mental part of the game. She is good at working with the catcher. You get in the hitter’s head. At our level, we don’t find a lot of pitchers that have her kind of speed, so that throws the hitters off. She’s a good, versatile pitcher.”

“Leah was one of the most talented players that we’ve had and especially one of the most talented pitchers,” Jennings coach Kendall Wildey said. “She was one of the best pitchers in the state back in that time; and when she went to Hanover, she worked on getting herself in shape. She dedicated herself to the rehab and getting herself in shape, and by doing that, she’s made herself even more effective.”

Kemmerer led Jennings to the final four in Class 4A as a junior and a sectional title as a senior. Butler and IUPUI offered scholarships, but she opted for an academic scholarship from Hanover.

“I’ve always been close to my family,” Kemmerer said. “I’m a big momma’s girl, so I didn’t want to be too far away from her. I had a couple D-I offers, but I didn’t want to just be a softball player. I wanted to focus on my education and be a college student, so Hanover was a good fit for me.”

At Hanover, Kemmerer is majoring in elementary education and minoring in history. She has a 3.5 GPA and has won the school’s Scholar-Athlete award the past two years.

On the field, Hanover went 18-18 this season, its first non-losing season since 2001. Kemmerer was part of Carlton’s first recruiting class in 2011 and has led the team’s rebuilding effort.

“They’ve done an excellent job of kind of turning the program around,” Carlton said. “She’s been a huge part of our success.”

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