There was no softball season for Friends first baseman Kelli Nicholson last year. That doesn’t mean it was just watch and wait.
That would’ve made a bad situation worse.
“Part of it was I was with a new team and I wanted to help them and support them every step of the way,” Nicholson said. “And part of it was just me working hard and having faith that something good was going to come out of it eventually. Sometimes it felt like I was stuck between a rock and a hard place, but things have worked out so far.”
Something good has come out of Nicholson’s year on the sideline — both for herself and for the Falcons, who are 27-6 and 10-0 in KCAC play after Tuesday’s sweep of Saint Mary’s. Nicholson, a senior first baseman, went 3 for 3 with two home runs in the first game against the Spires. She leads the KCAC with 29 RBIs and is third in the league with a .485 batting average.
She’s also tied for the KCAC lead with a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Nicholson, from Shawnee Heights High, played two years at Butler Community College in 2010 and 2011 before transferring to Nebraska-Omaha. She transferred to Friends for spring semester last year, but her credits were a couple of hours short of NAIA qualifications.
“She wasn’t happy at Nebraska-Omaha, and when she was sitting out, she did everything she could as far as practicing and making herself a better player,” Friends coach Tony Segovia said. “She was frustrated, but she really threw herself into her offseason routine.”
Nicholson’s season didn’t get off to a great start — she was 1 for 16 with 8 strikeouts in the first seven games before going on a tear that hasn’t stopped as the Falcons try to win their first regular-season title since going 16-0 in KCAC play in 2008.
“(Nicholson) is one of the smoothest hitters you’ll ever watch,” Segovia said. “She doesn’t bull the ball, she just sprays it all over the field. I don’t have to change anything or fix anything about her game, and at first base she’s 5-foot-9 so she gets to everything.
“The only thing I have to work on with her, and I seem to have to do this a lot with this team, is to make sure they’re not too hard on themselves. They all want to succeed so badly that sometimes I need to remind them to stay positive.”
The Falcons are hitting better as a team than in recent years — they lead the KCAC with a .369 batting average, and have benefited from the emergence of freshman second baseman Courtney Kifer and freshman shortstop Christina Downs.
Downs, from Augusta, is 10th in the KCAC with a .419 batting average. Kifer, from Circle High, leads the KCAC with 29 stolen bases and is seventh in the KCAC with a .438 batting average.
“I’m not surprised because I don’t look at them as freshmen, to be honest,” Nicholson said. “They play their positions and know their roles really well. I know they can play.”
The Falcons return to action Saturday in a doubleheader at third-place Ottawa. Kansas Wesleyan is also undefeated in league play at 8-0, and Friends will host the Coyotes on Wednesday.
“We’re focused on a conference ring,” Nicholson said. “And anything we can do above that, I’m sure.”