In the spring of 2011, a freshman hitting near the bottom of Pilgrim’s batting order blasted a home run in a softball game at Portsmouth High School.
Kelsey Johnston didn’t stay at the bottom of the order for long.
“We just kept moving her up, up, up,” said Pilgrim head coach Bill Aquilante. “She was hitting as well as anybody.”
She never stopped.
Four years later, the Pilgrim senior celebrated a milestone when she reached 100 career hits with a single against West Warwick on Saturday night. She became the second Patriot in as many years to reach 100, joining former teammate Katelyn Reph.
“It’s an indescribable feeling,” Johnston said. “Going into it freshman year, it seems like such an unreachable goal. My junior year, when I found it I was around 75, it started getting real for me and I knew if I put my mind to it, I could do it.”
Johnston hit the mark in her third at-bat against the Wizards. She had struck out her first time up, before reaching on an error in her second plate appearance. As she watched that error unfold – the Wizards third baseman couldn’t haul in a pop-up just behind the bag – she was hoping it wouldn’t get ruled a hit.
“I was like, ‘I really hope that’s not the hit that does it,’” Johnston said. “It was a little blooper.”
Her next time up, Johnston left no doubt, cracking a solid single past shortstop for hit No. 100. With family and friends cheering her on, the weight of the moment hit her.
“I had to take a moment and collect myself,” Johnston said. “It didn’t feel real. My parents were both there and they were so proud of me. It was a really great moment.”
The milestone was a culmination of a steady high-school career for Johnston. After coming through the softball ranks at Warwick West Side and Apponaug Girls Softball, Johnston forced her way into the lineup almost immediately in her freshman year.
“She just hit,” Johnston said. “That freshman class came in and they were all very good hitters. She had a home run early in her freshman year. Once you see that, you realize you’ve got to get that bat in the lineup every day.”
Johnston ended up batting .296 as a freshman. Her sophomore year, she grabbed the starting job at third base and continued to swing the bat well, hitting .330 with nine extra-base hits and knocking in 20.
Her success mirrored her team’s rise. The Pats had gone 3-15 before a 9-7 campaign in Johnston’s freshman year. They went 10-6 the next year and 13-3 last season.
“My freshman year, we weren’t there yet,” Johnston said. “We had to get to know each other, see who was going to be where. Sophomore year is when it really started to work.”
Johnston hit .345 as a junior, helping the Pats to their best season in a decade. This year, the Pats have fielded a younger squad, which has led to some rough patches and a 6-9 record thus far.
But Johnston and her fellow seniors have continued to do their part. Johnston is hitting a career-best .463 this season.
“We hope we can end strong for the seniors,” Aquilante said. “The season hasn’t gone up to their expectations. We’re hoping we can get into the playoffs and get hot.”
As the season hit the stretch run, Johnston still had a little business to take care of. She was sitting on 98 hits heading into last Thursday’s game against South Kingstown. She got 99 in her second at-bat and got three more chances, but flew out twice and walked.
“Up until that point, I was trying not to think about it,” Johnston said. “Once I got 99, I got nervous. The pitcher was throwing 48 at most and she was kind of all over the place. I just had to take what I could get.”
The nerves were back Saturday, but Johnston powered through them and got the hit she needed.
The Pats lost to West Warwick and fell to Exeter/West Greenwich on Monday. Their season finale is Thursday against Johnston. Then they’ll try to make some noise in the playoffs.
With the season nearing its end – and with all the end-of-year events at school – the future is bearing down quickly on Johnston and her fellow seniors. Johnston is planning to attend CCRI in the fall and is hoping to play softball for the Lady Knights.
“Softball has always been a huge part of my life, so I definitely want to continue on with it,” Johnston said. “I heard they need a third baseman.”
They’d be getting a third baseman who sure can hit.