Sports

‘Holliday’ season: Klahowya star eyes playoffs

Klahowya senior Kazandra Holliday throws a pitch during the Lady Eagles’ 12-3 victory at Kingston May 1. Holliday is the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
Klahowya senior Kazandra Holliday throws a pitch during the Lady Eagles’ 12-3 victory at Kingston May 1. Holliday is the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

“Champions keep playing until they get it right.”

Retired pro tennis player Billie Jean King said it first, but it’s an appropriate catch phrase for Klahowya’s Kazandra Holliday, who models both her fastpitch game and life off the field after King’s words.

Holliday, a senior and the school’s all-time leader in strikeouts with 586, hopes not only to keep playing and get it right this season with a deep postseason run, but also plans to get it right on the diamond at the collegiate level.

Holliday is verbally committed to play softball at the University of Central Florida next season and also has been offered a full-ride scholarship to two junior colleges as well as a chance to walk on at Humbolt State University in Arcadia, Calif.

With UCF preparing for the NCAA Softball Tournament, a busy time of year for coaches, Holliday said she is waiting to receive confirmation from UCF softball coach Renee Luers-Gillispie that she indeed has a spot on the roster for the 2010 season.

UCF, located in Orlando, Fla., is the nation’s fifth-largest Division I school with a total enrollment of about 50,000 and belongs to Conference USA. The softball team came into existence in 2002 and Holliday said the school has a strong forensic science program, of which she is interested.

“I love the school,” Holliday said. “It’s my number one choice right now.”

And while college is on Holliday’s mind, so, too, is her final season with KSS, which has narrowly missed state each of the past three seasons.

But Holliday is confident this season could be different and the team can get over the hump, having seven seniors who want to end their careers on a high note.

“What we really want to do is get to districts,” she said. “But we really want to go to state.”

In Holliday’s freshman and junior seasons, the team finished fourth when it needed to be in the Top 3 to reach state. As a sophomore, the Lady Eagles finished third when they needed to finish at least second to reach state.

“Each year, we’ve been one game short,” Holliday said. “I think we can pull off the wins.”

The team was at North Mason yesterday, but results from that game were unavailable at press time. They close the season with two home games against Bremerton (May 12) and North Kitsap (May 14).

Currently tied with Sequim for second place among Class 2A teams in the 3A/2A Olympic League, KSS (9-4 league) is in position to finally reach districts, controlling its own destiny.

Three victories in the last three games would send the Lady Eagles to districts.

“We need to win three games,” KSS coach Holly Carver said.

With the season — and her KSS career — winding down, Holliday said her role on the Lady Eagle team is to be a leader, a supporter and keep her teammates calm during not-so-ideal situations.

“Whatever the pitcher’s attitude is on the mound, it really reflects the team,” Holliday said. “If I stay focused, the team will stay focused. The big thing is leadership on the field.”

Carver, in her second year at KSS, echoed Holliday’s sentiment, saying Holliday brings experience few high school players possess.

“She knows a lot about the game, which helps me out,” Carver said. “She’s just an all-around great player.”

That leadership, Holliday said, has blossomed over the course of her career, which began in seventh grade when a friend who played fastpitch prodded her to try out for the team.

Five years later, Holliday is arguably the best pitcher the school has ever produced. In 96 innings this season, she has 161 strikeouts, 30 walks (12 hitter batters) and a 1.34 ERA. She also is hitting .339 with 11 RBI, two home runs and 14 runs.

“It’s been there for me my whole career, but it’s really come out this year,” Holliday said of being a leader. “I brought what I did on my select team to school ball.”

That select team is the Tacoma-based Washington Phoenix, a traveling team that competes annually in tournaments in California, Oregon, Nevada and Colorado, among others. Holliday is a member of the Phoenix’s 18A Gold team.

In fact, it was through select ball Holliday came into contact with UCF. She had strained her rhomboid muscles (back muscles) during the last inning of a tournament game in July and was forced to the sideline for about four months.

“The doctor told me to stay off of it, not to do anything,” Holliday said. “All I could do was physical therapy. They almost told me that was the end of my season.”

But in her first tournament back, somewhat uncertain of her post-injury capabilities, Holliday ended up pitching five of the seven games in which her team played, despite her coach having said she wouldn’t see much action. UCF saw her pitch and was sold.

“It could have been really scary,” Holliday said of the injury.

She has since developed a repertoire of six pitches — most high school pitchers have three or four — including a fastball, changeup, riseball and screw-riseball.

She admits her weakest pitch is the changeup, but she said she’s worked “really hard on it.” Her self-proclaimed best pitches are the rise and screw-rise.

Holliday also has reworked her mechanics, switching from a “pistol” windup, which relies heavily on upper-body strength, to a windup in which she uses her legs for power.

“I changed it because I didn’t like the feel of it,” she said. “Instead of using more upper body, I use more lower body.”

Both the Bremerton and North Kitsap games begin at 4 p.m.

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