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Saugus' Jenna Kelly: Rising to power

Shorstop puts up career hitting numbers, most notably homers

Posted: May 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: May 18, 2011 1:55 a.m.

This season, Saugus senior Jenna Kelly is hitting .481 with 35 RBIs and 12 home runs. Both of those totals are career-highs.

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Saugus shortstop Jenna Kelly is no stranger to hard-hit ground balls, diving stops and a high batting average.

A CIF-Southern Section rule change, a preleague moment and a Foothill League title later, the senior has added power to her repertoire.

Kelly’s offensive numbers have spiked this season, mimicking a level of production that has helped her attain multiple travel ball national championships and erase the Centurions’ seven-year title drought.

“It was really important,” she says of the league championship, “because softball is a fun game, but it’s more fun when you are winning. We haven’t done it for a while. We kind of did it for ourselves. Being 11 seniors, we just wanted it.”

Kelly, 18, is not only one of a strong core of seniors, she’s one of eight players who have been on varsity for four straight seasons.

The University of North Carolina-bound defensive stalwart made a name for herself with her acrobatic plays and strong batting average in her freshman year.

This season, Kelly posted a career-high .481 average, 35 RBIs and 12 home runs, topping her previous-bests of .354, 24 and four, respectively.

She credits offseason workouts and the CIF-SS’s decision to move the pitching circle back three feet.

Saugus head coach Julie Watson credits something else.

“She’s grown a lot in the last couple years,” Watson says. “This year, with a little bit of success behind the team, she’s been able to focus on herself.”

With many other players stepping up to take some of the load off of her, Kelly no longer has the pressure of years past.
In the middle of March, that support took on a different form.

Kelly competed in the home run derby at the 16th annual Tournament of Champions in Bullhead City, Ariz.

Her entry was a curious one at first given the fact that she had never led the Centurions in home runs.

She quickly proved that perception wrong.

With her teammates cheering her on, Kelly launched 24 home runs over the course of three rounds en route to a 4-foot first-place trophy.

“The announcer kept saying how loud they were,” she recalls.

Adds Watson: “It really brought the team together.”

Many of those players were also teammates for one of her first major achievements.

In 2006, Kelly, fellow Centurions Sara Shier, Emi Shimamoto, Christin Clark and Karlee Bickford were all part of SoCal Synergy’s 12U team that won the Amateur Softball Association national title.

Last August, she won her second national championship, this time winning the 18U Gold Premier title with her team from SoCal Athletics.

It set a nice tone for her final season at Saugus.

“You practice how you play,” Kelly says. “If you want to be successful, you have to work for it.”

She’s never missed a game, and she’s never stopped working.

Eight league victories later, including a dramatic 4-2 eight inning win over 10-time defending Foothill champion Valencia on May 10, Saugus earned its first league title since 2004, and its first outright championship since 1999.

The Centurions shared the title with the Vikings and Hart in 2004.

Kelly hit safely in every league game, amassing a .543 average, five home runs and 19 RBIs.

“She’s got high expectations, high goals,” Watson says. “She’s still got high expectations heading into the playoffs. That attitude rolls over to the other players.”

Some of those players include pitcher Cassie Herrera and outfielder Kate Karppenin, both seniors and friends of Kelly’s.

“On and off the field, she keeps it classy,” Herrera says, noting the confidence Kelly gives her with defensive and offensive support.

“Jenna’s like the mother of all of us,” Karppenin says. “Keeping us all in check.”

It’s an interesting parallel given the fact that she plans on going pre-med at North Carolina, a school she committed to as a sophomore.

Kelly has a 4.3 GPA to her credit and says she wants to be a pediatric surgeon.

“I love kids,” she says. “I love how they enjoy life. They are carefree.”

Kelly is much the same way.

She enjoys life.

When she’s on the field, she is seemingly carefree.

But she’s also very driven and is now looking to end another drought.

Saugus won six league titles in the 1990s and claimed the CIF championship in 1996.

“We are going to go hard, play hard, give it all and hopefully come out on top,” she says.

It would appear that titles are what Kelly does.

And she and the Centurions begin a run for another one at 3:15 p.m. Thursday against Canyon of Anaheim.

The game will be played at Saugus with a banner that commemorates the team’s past accomplishments, which is still waiting for 2011’s to be added to it, waving in the background.

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