Kenadie Gonzalez said trying out for the Puerto Rico National 19 and under softball team made her feel “excited-nervous.” The South Windsor graduate and All-Star catcher leaves Sunday for the Triple Crown International Challenge in Denver (CO).
“Honestly, every day it becomes more real. The nerves are still there but I’m so excited,” the 18-year-old Gonzalez said of competing with the best players to represent their national team. “My mom Samantha and dad Michael are going with me.
“We talked about it last year but missed the tryouts. My dad kept up with it. He asked me about a month ago if I wanted to do it,” she said. “My dad’s mom is the closest relative I have who was born in Puerto Rico. It is an honor to have an opportunity to do this.”
Gonzalez will play for Murray State (Kentucky) in the Division I Ohio Valley Conference. She was a shortstop until 9th grade when her travel coach needed a catcher. The gear fit.
“I look back and say ‘wow’, how can I not be involved in every pitch and every play,” she said. “The biggest challenge is getting the communication down with the infielders. I called pitches my high school season.”
As a sophomore Gonzalez caught Maria Hanchuk, the 2019 state Gatorade Player of the Year now pitching at Endicott. After the pandemic took a year away, Gonzalez worked with junior Bridget Dougherty in the circle this past season. “Bridget and I would set between innings and go over what was working that particular game,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez was considering Le Moyne College (N.Y.) when Murray State came calling.
“A player they had signed quit playing softball all together,” Gonzalez said. “They called my hitting coach Rob Cruz and asked if he knew of any catchers. He ended up giving them my contact info. They reached out. I ended up loving the coaches and the campus.”
Move in day at Murray State is Aug. 13-14. Before the Gonzalez’ family begins the 18-hour trip they may want to consider the path taken by Kenadie’s Lady Knight club team coach Davina Hernandez.
Davina Hernandez took a similar journey in 2007. A sophomore outfielder at UMass, Hernandez was invited to a one-session try out session in Miami to earn a berth on the PUR National team. One day turned into a three-month excursion that took the current Southington coach to tournaments in four countries.
“We lost our NCAA regional final game to No. 1 Oklahoma 6-3 on May 20. I received a call inviting me to try out and a couple days later I took a flight to Miami,” said Hernandez, who played scholastically at Bristol Central. “I went with couple suitcases. I didn’t come home until Sept. 5 when classes at UMass were going to begin.”
One of two girls selected to play for PUR, Hernandez went to Puerto Rico to play in a series of games in the Olympic Festival. It was her first time flying alone, her first time to Puerto Rico. A week later she saw her No. 33 on the National team roster when the final team was announced.
“That summer was dedicated to softball,” said Hernandez, whose paternal grandparents were born in Puerto Rico. “We went to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the Pan American Games. We played in the Canada Cup, in Caracus, Venezuela and the 2008 Olympic Trials.”
Hernandez has coached Southington to five titles and six finals since becoming coach in 2013. She sees in Gonzalez what her PUR National team coach saw in her.
“I met Kenadie when she was 13 and taking batting lessons. A few years later she ended up on my travel team,” Hernandez said. “I could tell right away that Kenadie had that special something to be very good.”
Hernandez believes in opening doors.
“To give back to the kids is fun,” she said. “I’m on the softball committee for Connecticut. Every year I volunteer to coach. I try to help kids that want to play at the next level.”
CHANGES IN GAME
“Back then you could do all. I played high school, travel, Big League. Every league I could. Now you can’t do both at the same time,” said Hernandez, who stopped playing in 2011.
“Our (Big League) team had top players from the state. We had commits to colleges like Tufts, UMass, Mitchell, all over. Most of us had just finished our freshmen year. We put a team together from Farmington, Plainville, Bristol. A small cluster of towns. We played during the week. We won our district, then regionals.”
Hernandez’ team represented the East in the World Series in Kalamazoo (MI). They made it to the finals where they lost to host Michigan in the finals featured on ESPN2.
“We played a lot of great teams. It was the first time I had played in an international tournament. Puerto Rico was there representing Latin America and we had a chance to play them,” Hernandez said.
“It was like the boys’ Little League World Series only for high school girls. I had good game against Puerto Rico (a walk off hit for the win),” she said. “After the game the coach for Puerto Rico approached and asked me if I was of Puerto Rico descent. I told him yes. He asked if I would be interested in representing Puerto Rico in the Junior Pan American Games with the 19 and under National team.”
Excitement turned to disappointment. Hernandez missed the age limit by a few months. It took another year, an invite to Miami, for Hernandez to have her life moment.
Hernandez stays in touch with teammates.
“I talk with Aileen Morales now coach at Georgia Tech and her assistant Reese Mariconda all the time,” Hernandez said of her PUR teammates. “Central Connecticut head coach Breanne Gleason was one of our pitchers in Kalamazoo.”
Hernandez had a helping hand in UMass landing standout pitcher Sarah Plourde out of Bristol Eastern, now an assistant coach at Dayton University.
“I brought a DVD of our World Series game into my coach at UMass,” Hernandez said. “Softball legend Michele Smith was commenting the game on ESPN2. She’s going ‘who is this kid throwing 68-69 MPH at 16 years old.’ That was Sarah Plourde. She was one of the best Division I pitchers. I think her senior year she led the nation in strikeouts.”
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @blox354