Daily Egyptian

Gonzalez ending career on a high note

By Sean Carley, @SCarleyDE

Growing up as a dancer, Saluki softball shortstop Kelsey Gonzalez is preparing for her final performance on the field.

The four-year starter will play her last regular season game at Charlotte West Stadium on Sunday, capping a strong career for Saluki softball.

As a career .278 hitter, a 3.97 GPA student in marketing and a two-year team captain, Gonzalez is a well-rounded person on and off the field.

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“She’s just an A-plus type student-athlete,” coach Kerri Blaylock said. “She’s a leader, she’s phenomenal with her teammates, she’s a great student, she’s a great athlete.” 

The softball life began about the same time as her dance career — early elementary school years.

“When I got really serious about it, I was probably around 8,” Gonzalez said. “That’s when I started doing the traveling. That’s when I started pouring everything I had into it.”

The Bolingbrook native was teammates with former Saluki pitcher Alyssa Wunderlich at Naperville Central High School and decided to follow her friend to Carbondale.

However, the success did not come at the genesis of her career. Gonzalez said both her offensive and defensive skills progressed since adjusting to college softball.

Gonzalez’s hit .210 and committed a team-high 11 errors while starting all 52 games as a freshman. Blaylock said Gonzalez struggled “learning the ropes” of collegiate softball in her first year.

She came back with a vengeance her sophomore year, raising her average by more than 100 points to .328, which was third-highest on the team.

Since then her batting average has leveled out to .288 this year, fifth highest on the team, and she is on pace for a career low in errors.

Gonzalez is also the lone senior among this season’s three team captains and is the only one serving a second term. 

Her leadership is not a facade put on for those outside the program either.

April 7 at Murray State, SIU battled the elements on a dusty, rainy field. In addition to the weather, SIU was struggling to adjust to Racer pitcher Mason Robinson, who had allowed only three hits against SIU the prior season.

Robinson was through 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit and hitting coach Jen Sewell became irritated with the team’s inability to adjust to Robinson so she, as well as Blaylock, pulled sophomore second baseman Savannah Fisher — the hitter at the time — aside to discuss the situation.

Gonzalez then left the on-deck circle to rally the troops, corralled the team around in the dugout and explained exactly how to hit Robinson. In her at-bat, she singled to start what would be a six-run inning, five of which were scored off Robinson, en route to a 10-5 Saluki victory.

As serious as she may seem on the field, Gonzalez is more light-hearted in the locker room and off the field.

“You can sit down and have a serious conversation with her and you can also cut a joke with her,” Blaylock said of the team’s biggest Beyonce fan.

Jokes and musical preferences aside, being a Saluki has given Gonzalez the opportunity to give to the less fortunate, notably in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico last season. 

“Our trip to Mexico last year was a very cool experience to be a part of,” she said. “We got to work with the local kids teams and teach them some skills. Just giving back and being in that community was really cool.”

As her final season winds down, Gonzalez hopes to instill the a winning culture in the younger players.

In her first three years SIU went 74-77-1, finishing above .500 once — 28-24 in 2014.

This year’s team is guaranteed to at least tie that mark even if it loses out.

“This team has a different feel to it,” Gonzalez said. “We have shown we can do some pretty amazing things. This year has definitely been a memorable one; it’s kind of crazy that it’s already [seven] games away from being over.”

One hundred ninety-six games after her Saluki career began, Gonzalez said the nostalgia is beginning to set in.

Even though she’s beginning to look back on her time as a Dawg, she feels the job is not done until she guides the team to its 11th NCAA tournament appearance.

“The biggest thing is just going out and enjoying my last time playing with this group and working hard to finish it out,” Gonzalez said.

After graduating in May, Gonzalez will be back in August to begin her master’s degree in business administration and will serve as a graduate assistant in SIU athletics’ business division.

“We talk about it all the time how you have to pass the baton and show the younger kids what Saluki softball is all about,” Blaylock said. “We feel like we have a culture here of working hard, doing the right thing type of kids and she’ll be another one to pass it on.”

Gonzalez along with fellow seniors Caylee Cook and Taylor Harris will be honored during Senior Day at 12 p.m. Sunday against Northern Iowa at Charlotte West Stadium. 

Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or at 618-536-3307.

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